Home WellnessMental Health How Depression Affects The Brain

How Depression Affects The Brain

by Nicolas Ellsworth


Research suggests that the brain changes during the depression.

Depression causes a decline in serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects mood as well as other brain functions. The body tries to compensate for this decline by increasing levels of norepinephrine, a chemical that helps boost mood and boosts activity in parts of the brain responsible for thinking and planning. But norepinephrine also causes feelings of restlessness and agitation.

Norepinephrine is part of the fight-or-flight response, which is what you experience when you’re under stress or anxiety. It’s also part of your body’s “adrenaline shift” which allows you to quickly respond to danger—and can cause heart palpitations. (The adrenaline response has been shown to be associated with heart problems.)

It turns out that both norepinephrine and serotonin are important parts of our brain chemistry. Tryptophan—a key dietary protein found in turkey—helps balance serotonin levels; people with depression often have low levels of tryptophan and high levels of stress hormones like cortisol.

Anxiety, on the other hand, causes more severe declines in both tryptophan and serotonin levels than depression does because it lasts longer, so tryptophan is less available when it becomes available again—and those low levels make it harder for your brain to balance out the buildup of stress hormones.

Using this framework to understand what is going on with people who struggle with anxiety might help us figure out how to treat their illness better.

Diagnosing Depression and Anxiety Disorders

A new study conducted by researchers at the University of California, Davis, suggests that there is a link between depression and anxiety.

Their study looked at 2,500 people, ages 30-69, who had been diagnosed with one of the major mental disorders. They found that those who had experienced major depressive disorder over a period of time were more likely to have anxiety disorders in the future. That’s interesting because depression affects about 20% of people (and as little as 2-4% in some cases). The study authors point out that it isn’t just depression itself that makes you more likely to develop a mental illness; it’s being stressed or anxious that increases your risk.

If you are suffering from depression and anxiety issues, these are great reasons to consult with an expert:

  • Withdrawal symptoms: This is where you feel like you aren’t able to do anything in life because you don’t have enough energy or motivation to do so (or to do things like work)
  • General fatigue and lack of energy
  • Feeling hopeless/helpless
  • Trouble sleeping (especially insomnia)
  • Frequent physical aches and pains
  • You don’t feel well on days when other people seem better than you do

The good news is that the Diabetes Council has developed a quick test for depression – the Diabetes Self-Test. It assesses your ability to feel well enough for you to go about daily activities without having worries about feeling sick. It takes about 30 minutes and can be done at home or in person. You can use it online or download it here. If your results are below 3 out of 10, then talk with an expert immediately (we can help). If they are above 4 out of 10, then get help right away! Depression affects anyone; regardless of age or gender – ask your doctor if they can refer you for help. If they say no, find someone else! You should take care not only of yourself but also of your family members when seeking early diagnosis and treatment.

Causes of Depression and Anxiety Disorders

This is the title of a study published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine that looked at brain imaging data from those with “major depressive disorder” (MDD). They conclude that the brains of MDD patients are different from those of healthy people and that depression may be due to a lack of serotonin in their brains. As such, they suggest some possible mechanisms for treating depression.

We all know that serotonin plays an important role in mood regulation, and recent research suggests it may play a role in other mental health conditions as well. In particular, research shows that people with depression are less able than healthy controls to manufacture and secrete this neurotransmitter. It is thought that excessive stress, illness, or medications can decrease serotonin production; however, the exact mechanism by which these changes might lead to MDD remains unclear.

This study was done using an fMRI machine to take detailed measurements of brain activity when participants were shown images like this one:

Treating Depression and Anxiety Disorders

The most common cause of depression is the loss of something that we valued in our lives.

depression and anxiety disorders are often treatable with medication when other treatments have failed.

There are many different types of depression, including seasonal (winter) depression, which is more common this time of year. Some people can’t get rid of their depression symptoms even when they’re not depressed, even though they may feel miserable and tired.  This kind of “major depressive episode” is very difficult to treat non-medically. Depression can be triggered by many different things, including life changes such as the death or move out of home, a stressful job or relationship, or a violent crime. People who have had severe panic attacks after an airplane crash may also develop recurrent episodes in the months after their attack.

“Anxiety disorder” refers to a wide range of emotional symptoms that include fear, worry, chest pain or palpitations (feeling unable to breathe), dizziness (feeling faint), insomnia (waking up early in the morning), and difficulty concentrating or paying attention at work or school. Anxiety disorders can be caused by physical illnesses such as cancer and heart disease; psychological factors like anxiety about major life changes; or drugs like alcohol and sedatives like sleeping pills. At any given time there are over 100 different types of anxiety disorder that differ from one another in how often the symptoms appear and how severe they are.  A good way to tell whether your anxiety is due to physical illness or mental stress is by asking yourself the following questions: 

  • Do I feel like I’m going crazy?  
  • Can I do everything I used to do?  
  • Am I afraid for my safety?

In an article on The Huffington Post, Dr. Joanna Moncrief writes: “There’s no question that some forms of depression are more serious than others.” There’s a lot more that needs to be said about what causes these conditions but for now, let’s just say that if you’ve been diagnosed with either one then it’s worth talking to someone you trust about it so your doctor can help you figure out what works best for you so you can get well again soon!


For a long time, the only effective treatment for depression has been antidepressants. With their effectiveness limited by side effects, depression can be a debilitating condition that eats away at your life and your mental health.

There are many different forms of antidepressants and they have different mechanisms of action. They can affect how serotonin (the neurotransmitter) works in the brain or how the parts of the brain associated with mood work together. There are some drugs that work in one way but others work in another way (they aren’t necessarily “better” or “worse”).

As such, there is no single treatment for depression but there are ways to manage it and figure out ways to improve your quality of life — and those include:

  • Medications such as SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) like Prozac, Zoloft, Celexa; MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors); tricyclic antidepressants; and NBIAs (neuroleptic agents).
  • Weaning yourself off these medications gradually. Many people have found that their symptoms get better when they stop taking them for a year or two. Some people have had to take these medicines for decades before getting better. if you are more Anxiety Disorders problems, you try this Fildena 100 mg and Aurogra 100 mg for Anxiety Disorders problems.
  • Diet: eating healthy food can make you feel better. Exercise can also help you feel better if you are not on any medication at the moment or want to keep your symptoms under control while continuing an active lifestyle.
  • Medication alone isn’t a universal solution though — many people get worse when they stop taking an antidepressant — so it is important to understand what your risks are keeping track of side effects as this will help you decide what works best for you sometimes! It is important to discuss lifestyle changes with your doctor prior to starting any new medication since the changes may require adjustments in what you eat and exercise habits. It is also good practice to ask him/her about other treatments including psychological therapies like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) which generally works best with moderate levels of dosage and does not require a doctor-prescribed course of medicine for its effectiveness.)

In more detail:  for someone who is currently on medication:  many SSRI-type medications affect serotonin levels by blocking an enzyme called monoamine oxidase A (MAOA), which helps break down certain neurotransmitters called serotonin (serotonin) and norepinephrine.

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