Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), which consists of repetitive cycles of depression, can lead to temporary and even permanent brain damage. According to a recent study by the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, nearly 14.8 million American adults suffer from MDD annually.
This disease is a mood disorder that affects the way a person thinks, acts, and feels. Common emotions experienced by those with MDD include sadness and hopelessness and, in severe cases, thoughts or actions of self-harm and even suicide.
MDD not only has lasting effects on a person’s emotional and mental health but also on his or her brain. Problems resulting from MDD occur when high levels of cortisol are produced over a long period of time. Cortisol is a hormone released by the hippocampus, which is the center of the brain, during times of stress. Increased cortisol production slows neuron production, which takes place in the hippocampus as well. When the production of neurons—which transmit nerve impulses—slows, already-existent neurons shrink. This ultimately causes memory loss and shrinkage of the hippocampus.
MDD also negatively affects other parts of the brain including the amygdala. The amygdala facilitates emotional responses and, when cortisol levels rise, this part of the brain swells. Swelling of the amygdala can result in changes in an MDD-sufferer’s sleep and activity patterns.
Further, MDD has negative influence on the prefrontal cortex, which is located at the very front of the brain. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for regulating emotions, making decisions, and forming memories. Excessive amounts of cortisol spur shrinkage of this area of the brain.
For years, psychiatrists have worked to find the best treatment for those who have MDD. Certain treatments can help adjust a person’s brain with MDD to a “healthy” status. For instance, some medications can help balance the hormones that MDD causes to become unbalanced—such as cortisol. One example is selective serotonin uptake inhibiters (SSRIs). These work to alleviate and even eliminate the symptoms of MDD by changing serotonin levels. A hormone thought to maintain mood balance, serotonin can sometimes lead to worsening depression.
Another treatment MDD sufferers commonly try is monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). These ease MDD symptoms and increase mood-stabilizing hormones, thus increasing brain cell communication.
Other, non-medication options exist to treat MDD, too. For example, psychiatrists recommend consuming healthy foods, sleeping well, and avoiding alcohol and drugs. These behaviors can help increase the brain’s natural neuron-reparation process.
Hopefully, psychiatric research will reach a cure for MDD soon; those affected by this life-altering disease certainly deserve effective treatment.
[Sources: www.heathline.com; molecularpsychiatry.com]