New Research Says Depression Is Not a Choice, It’s a Form of Brain Damage

It has long been believed that experiences like getting fired, losing a family member, or getting divorced are what leads to depression, and this seems to make sense considering that these events often leave people feeling scared, sad, alone, or helpless. However, there is a big difference between anxiety and depression, especially considering anxiety tends to be short-term whereas depression can be a lifelong struggle.

Depression normally involves feeling discouraged, hopeless, sad, or unmotivated for at least two weeks straight. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) is the primary cause of disability in the U.S., and this applies to human beings of all different age groups and backgrounds. In order to be diagnosed with MDD, five of the following symptoms must be experienced for at least two weeks: persistent sadness, persistent emptiness, feeling hopeless, lack of ambition, lack of energy, trouble concentrating, trouble making decisions, insomnia, oversleeping, loss of appetite, weight gain, and/or suicidal thoughts.


The ENIGMA MDD Working Group has shown that MDD causes physiological damage by examining approximately 9,000 people: 7,199 were healthy, and 1,728 were diagnosed with MDD. There was a significant difference in the MRI brain scans of the two different groups of people; the hippocampus was about 1.24% smaller in individuals with MDD. Since the hippocampus helps create new memories and process long-term memories, emotional responses, and spatial navigation, it isn’t difficult to believe that depression would ensue. In fact, Ian Hickie argues that this issue could alter “the whole concept we hold of ourselves.”

Fortunately, the hippocampus can grow new neurons, and antidepressant medication has been shown to promote neurogenesis, or the growth of new brain cells. What’s more, it takes about six weeks for new neurons to grow, and this is also the amount of time it takes for monoaminergic antidepressants such as SSRI to take effect. However, there are certainly other causes of depression that need to be considered as well.

The tendency for depressed people to think about their misery (rumination) may seem somewhat productive if solutions to these issues or problems were discovered as a result, but studies have proven that rumination makes problem-solving more difficult, and it makes moods more negative. It is likely that the brain’s fear system (the amygdala) causes avoidant behavior which leads to further depression.







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