It is usually said that depression is a result of a chemical imbalance in our brain, but that does not capture how complicated this type of mental health is. Studies suggest that depression does not spring from having too little or too much of certain hormones or chemicals in the brain.
Instead, there are a lot of possible factors that cause depression, including genetic vulnerability, faulty mood regulation of the brain, medications, stressful life events or medical problems or issues. It is believed that a lot of these forces interact with each other to bring on depression.
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To be sure, a lot of chemicals are involved in the process, but it is not that simple. It is not a matter of one or two compounds being too high and another too low. Instead, most of these chemicals that are involved work both the outside and inside of nerve cells.
There are at least million, if not billions, of chemical reactions that make up the complex system that is responsible for a person’s mood, how you experience life and a person’s perception. With this level of complexity, you can see how several people might have the same symptoms of depression, but different problems on the inside, that is why the type of treatment will be different with each patient.
Various studies show the biology of depression. These studies identified genes that make people vulnerable to high or low moods and can influence how people respond to specific drug therapy. The time will come that these discoveries can lead to a better, individualized treatment, but there is a big chance that it is years away.
And while experts know more now more than ever, about how the brain works or how the human brain regulates different moods, their understanding of depression is still incomplete and far from over. In this article, we will take a closer look at the current knowledge of different factors that are believed to play a significant role when it comes to depression.
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Depression and the human brain
According to popular lore, emotions reside in our hearts. But according to science, the human brain is responsible for any emotions and moods. Certain parts of the human brain to help regulate emotions and mood. Experts believe that nerve cell connections, the functioning of the nerve circuits and cell connections have a significant impact on depression (more critical compared to the levels of certain brain chemicals). Still, the expert’s understanding of the neurological underpinning of moods is considered incomplete.
Parts of the brain that affect the human mood
Sophisticated and advanced forms of imaging like PET or Positron Emission Tomography, SPECT or Single-Photon Emission Computed Tomography or the fMRI or the functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging, allows a closer look at how a healthy working brain compared to its previous state.
A functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging scan can track all the changes that are taking place when a region of the human brain responds when specific tasks are performed. SPECT or PET scans can help map out the brain by measuring the density and distribution of the neurotransmitter receptors in different areas of the human mind.
The use of this technology led to a better understanding of how different regions of the brain regulate different mood and how functions like memory can be affected by depression. Parts that play a role in depression are the thalamus, hippocampus and the amygdala. Studies show that the hippocampus got a lot smaller in people with depression.
According to a study conducted with 24 women with a history of depression, the hippocampus was smaller by 9% to 13% in women suffering from depression compared to women with good mental health. The longer women suffered from this disease, the smaller their hippocampus will become. Stress plays a more significant role in this disease and it could be a significant factor since most experts believe that stress can suppress the development of new nerve cells or neurons in the hippocampus.
Experts are now exploring the links between low moods and slow production of new nerve cells in the hippocampus, and an interesting fact about mental health medications like antidepressants will support this theory. These types of drugs can immediately boost the concentration of certain chemical messengers in the human mind.
Yet people usually do not start to feel much better for a couple of weeks, even longer. Researchers have wondered why, if these medications were the main result of low levels of chemical messengers, people do not feel better as soon as the levels of these chemicals increases.
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The answer can be that the mood will only improve as the nerves form and grow new connections, a process that may take a few weeks. As a matter of fact, animal studies suggest that mental health medications like antidepressants can help increase the growth, as well as enhances the branching of the nerve cells in the hippocampus.
The answer might be that the mood will only improve when new nerves form and grow. That is why the theory will hold, the real value of these mental health medications can be generating new brain cells (also known as neurogenesis), strengthening brain cell connections, and improving all the exchange of details and information between nerve circuits.
If that is the case, mental health medication, especially depression medications can be developed that can specifically promote the formation of new nerve cells, with the hope of patients seeing faster results compared to current treatments.
Mental health medications (depression meds)
Usually, all the symptoms of mania or depression are the side effect of a specific drug, like blood pressure medication or steroids. Make sure that you tell your physician or therapist what kind of drugs you are using and when the symptoms started. A medical professional can help you sort out whether a new treatment method, a change in the dosage or interaction with other substances or drugs can affect the patient’s mood.