How Depression Affects the Brain

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How Depression Affects the Brain

Watching a loved one or a friend struggle with depression can be tough.

Even if you struggle with depression yourself, you may feel frustrated that you can’t seem to pull yourself out of it.  While it can be tempting to think that someone can simply snap out of their depression, depression is so much more than a bad mood. A person who is depressed is not just feeling sad. In fact, the chemical and physical makeup of their brain is being affected by their depression as well.

As a residential mental health treatment center in Palm Beach, we see plenty of patients struggling with the emotional effects of depression, but we know that there is a lot more going on below the surface.

Depression and the Brain

A person who is depressed will often feel hopeless, lack interest in activities they once enjoyed, have problems with their weight, experience irregular sleep problems, and struggle with suicidal thoughts or actions. Along with these changes, long-term depression will also take a toll on our brains and can actually lead to physical changes in brain structure as well as brain chemistry.

Depression affects the brain in many ways and it shows when looking at a depressed brain versus a normal brain. Some of the most common ways depression affects the brain include:

Increased Problems with Memory, Learning, and Brain Development

Because people with a major depressive disorder tend to have increased stress levels, the production of new neurons may slow down or even decrease in the hippocampus resulting in a nearly 20% volume loss of this brain region.1 With the hippocampus playing such an important role in the storing and creating of memories, the result is memory problems. Another study showed that people who were depressed for over 10 years had 30% more brain inflammation leading to decreased brain volume, poor neurotransmitter functioning, and decreased brain elasticity.2 The result: various problems including those related to learning and brain development.

More Emotional Responses

One study found that compared to those who do not suffer from depression, those with major depression had a 13% larger amygdala volume.3 The amygdala is responsible for emotional regulation and responses. Some research suggests that this is also a result of increased stress levels while others think an enlarged amygdala is part of the cause of depression. Either way, studies show that the amygdala of someone who is depressed is much more active than someone who is not when triggered.4 This suggests that a depressed person has stronger negative emotional responses than the average person.

Looking for Happiness Elsewhere

The lack of dopamine in the brain of someone with depression can often lead to substance abuse problems as well, and the result can be even more drastic changes. Because dopamine makes you feel happy and depressed people often have a dopamine deficiency, some people will turn to drugs or alcohol for a temporary rush of dopamine and feeling of happiness. When an addiction develops, as a result, a co-occurring disorder treatment is necessary to address both issues.

If you struggle with depression and addiction yourself or have seen them cripple a loved one, ask for help. There is so much going on below the surface, and our depression recovery program in Palm Beach is here to address all of these issues. You can be happier than you are now with a life free from drugs. To begin your recovery journey, contact us immediately at 561-220-3981.


  1. NCBI – Depression, antidepressants, and the shrinking hippocampus
  2. The Lancet – Association of translocator protein total distribution volume with duration of untreated major depressive disorder: a cross-sectional study
  3. NCBI – Enlarged amygdala volume and reduced hippocampal volume in young women with major depression.
  4. The University of Queensland – Depression and the brain






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