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Can Depression Make You Dumber? (7 simple facts)

This blog article provides information on the question, “Can depression make you dumber?” the blog also covers the impact of depression on your hippocampus, helps understand the brain’s neuroplasticity, and outlines suggestions to improve your cognitive abilities. 

Can Depression Make You Dumber?

Depression can affect various cognitive abilities, which could make you feel dumber. These impairments are seen in the following cognitive skills:

  • Memory
  • Attention
  • Executive Function
  • Decision-Making

Memory 

A study in 2008 by Joormann and Gotlib investigated the working memory of individuals with depression compared to individuals without depression. They found that people with depression find it challenging to keep aside their negative thoughts and memories and focus on the task at hand. Such findings illustrate why people with depression have difficulties with focusing on what they are doing. Their working memory is unable to take away the negative memories and revise itself with more pertinent content. 

A more recent study in 2015 found that depression can lead to short-term memory loss. Depression-induced memory loss can make you disremember various things, ranging from something simple like last night’s dinner to something more significant like the crucial details of an event. 

These studies show how people with depression can struggle with carrying out cognitive tasks at work and even at home. Depression impairs various cognitive abilities, like memory, attention, and executive functioning. Such impairments can make you feel dumber when depressed. 

Attention

It is common for individuals with depression to be diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADD). Moreover, people with depression tend to have problems with attention. Research is unclear on why people with depression face attention issues, but it is clear that there is a relation. There is a possibility of antidepressants leading to certain side-effects, so ensure you talk to your physician if you experience any attention problems.

Moreover, a meta-analysis conducted by Peckham and colleagues demonstrates that people with depression tend to have a bias in attending to negative information in the environment. 

Executive Function

Executive function includes the set of cognitive processes for regulating behaviors that lead to goal attainment, including planning, organizing, following directions, and regulating emotions. It helps you get things done.

People with depression are known to have impairments in this area, making even simple tasks, like remembering to make a call, challenging. The impairment does not typically last for a long time and occurs when you are overly stressed, sleep-deprived, or intensely sad. 

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Decision-Making

People with depression are likely to have impairments in their decision-making abilities. They are unable to make a choice, and when they do, they may ruminate on whether they made the right choice and feel guilty that there may have been better alternatives. Making decisions tend to overwhelm people with depression. 

Depression and Hippocampus

One study reported that depression could cause considerable damage to the brain, particularly the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a part of the limbic system, which is responsible for all of your emotions. The hippocampus plays a significant role in memory. 

The researchers concluded that repeated experiences of depressive episodes could lead to the hippocampus shrinking up to around 10%. Further, the physical damage is found to be worse if the individual develops depression before they turn 21. 

The shrinkage of the hippocampus can, after the way you view yourself and the world around you and cause concentration and memory issues. What is yet unknown is whether the depression comes first or the hippocampus damage.  

Neuroplasticity

Fortunately, the damage to the brain could be reversed. Specific treatments can nullify the impairments as the hippocampus is highly capable of neurogenesis and neuroplasticity. Neurogenesis is the growth of new neurons, while neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to respond to learning or recovery from damage by developing and reorganizing synaptic connections.   

The appropriate treatment can allow the brain to reverse the hippocampus shrinkage and even prevent subsequent depressive episodes. Remember that the earlier you get your depression treated, the less damage is caused to the hippocampus and the faster the regenerative process.  

If you or someone you know is experiencing depression, contact your physician or a mental health practitioner immediately. 

Although antidepressants are ineffective for cognitive impairment, it can help regulate your emotions and other biological functions. Rehabilitative interventions and psychotherapy, specifically Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), could help restore cognitive abilities.

What You Can Do

To manage these cognitive difficulties caused by depression, you can practice some of the following suggestions, including:

  • Exercise;
  • Avoid making it your identity;
  • Make lists;
  • Read enjoyable material;
  • Schedule;
  • Try audiobooks;
  • Set more time for editing; and
  • Read short material

Exercise

Exercise can help reestablish the levels of GABA and glutamate, two essential neurotransmitters implicated in depression. Regular exercise can improve various cognitive abilities, including memory and attention. The period right after physical activity is also known for providing clarity, allowing you to make more sound judgments.  

Recognize the connection 

Understand the connection between depression and the cognitive difficulties you are experiencing. Instead of writing yourself off as dumb, recognizing this link can prevent you from wallowing and take actionable steps instead. You are likely to be kinder and more compassionate to yourself. 

You understand the rationale behind your difficulties and the consequent drop in performance at work or home. You can then take the required actions to manage the impairments.    

Avoid making it your identity

When you make your cognitive impairments or your intelligence your identity, you end up worsening your depression. You are not how much you read or how smart you are. There is so much more to you. So, labeling yourself as dumb or incompetent can be counterproductive. 

Therefore, try to work on accepting yourself and your diagnosis. Therapy is incredibly beneficial for developing self-acceptance.  

Make lists

Making lists of the things you have to do for the day, week, or even month can help with memory-related problems. You can make simple lists for groceries or more complicated ones like planning your day. 

You can also make lists of things you need to talk to your therapist or physician about, as such information is crucial in your path to recovery.  

Read material that you enjoy

When you are attempting to re-develop your reading habits, start with material that you thoroughly enjoy. Pick something fast-paced to keep your motivation levels up. Not everybody is a fan of classics, and there is nothing wrong with that. People often succumb to the pressures of reading classics when they do not even enjoy them.

Pick any book that interests you, from romance and thriller to classics. There is no reason to be embarrassed to read books that are not considered “cool.” Read what interests and motivates you. 

Schedule 

Make a schedule for everything to ensure you do not lose your attention or get distracted. Bringing a sense of structure to your day through plans can be tremendously helpful. Make sure that your agendas are detailed, including specific and ample breaks.

Try audiobooks

If you are someone who is more auditory than visual in terms of learning, pick audiobooks. There is a common arrogant outlook that people who listen to audiobooks are lazy. It is not valid; audiobooks are an excellent and innovative source to utilize as different people have different learning styles. 

You can rekindle your interest in engaging in reading tasks by starting with listening to audiobooks. You can listen to them when you are driving, cooking, cleaning, or anything else that entails monotony. 

Set more time for editing

Suppose you have important deadlines to meet and create some content as part of your work, set more time for editing. You are likely to experience difficulties in registering errors. There may be an incongruence between what you type and your thoughts, so the likelihood of committing errors can increase. Therefore, ensure you have enough time to go over your work.

You can also make use of helpful tools like Grammarly. It can make you perform more efficiently and effectively.

Read short material 

You are likely to give up on trying to get back into reading if you start with long material. Therefore, reading short content can help sustain your attention for more extended periods. It can include brief articles, stories, magazine excerpts, research abstracts, or poetry. 

All of these contents have verbal information processing, and the ultimate goal is to get you to read more and improve your cognitive skills. Starting small and slowly expanding the material you consume can be useful.   

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Conclusion

This blog article answered the question, “Can depression make you dumber?” The blog also detailed the impact of depression on your hippocampus, helped understand the brain’s neuroplasticity, and outlined suggestions to improve your cognitive abilities. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): Can Depression Make You Dumber?

Does depression impact cognitive abilities?

Yes, depression impacts cognitive abilities, such as attention, decision-making, memory, and executive functions.

Does depression make the brain smaller?

There is evidence that depression can cause the brain to shrink, which is related to cognitive and emotional deficits.

Can depression induce confusion?

Yes, depression can cause confusion and other memory-related issues, like forgetfulness and even short-term memory loss. It can also cause difficulties in concentration and decision-making. Apart from depression, anxiety and stress are related to memory problems.

Does depression make the brain older?

There is proof that depression can make your brain older more quickly. Depression makes physical altercations to the brain that cause aging effects and make you more prone to developing disorders typically seen in older adults. 

Can depression cause personality changes?

Yes, depression and other mental health conditions like anxiety and PTSD can result in personality changes. Psychological disorders occur due to various reasons, including biology, environment, and even physical damage. 

How does depression affect the brain?

Depression releases cortisol, causing an enlargement of the amygdala, which is the brain region responsible for emotions. When the amygdala enlarges, it becomes more active and can lead to sleep difficulties, hormonal changes, and alterations in activity levels. 

Can you use a brain scan to see if you are depressed?

No, brain scans do not detect depression. However, specific brain-imaging techniques can be used to detect the level of blood in various brain regions. If two areas are activated at the same time, it is known as “functional connectivity.” There are specific connectivity features associated with specific depressive symptoms, like anhedonia and anxiousness.

What we recommend for depression

Professional counselling

If you are suffering from depression then ongoing professional counselling may be your ideal first point of call. Counselling will utilize theories such as Cognitive behavioural therapy which will help you live a more fulfilling life.

References

Ashman, H. (2019, October 25). When Brain Fog Makes You Stupid. Retrieved from  https://medium.com/swlh/when-brain-fog-makes-you-stupid-813e54de5869.  

Ferguson, S. (2019, August 29). Mental Illness Can Make It Hard to Read. Here’s Why — and What You Can Do. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-illness-and-reading.  

Joormann, J., & Gotlib, I. H. (2008). Updating the contents of working memory in depression: Interference from irrelevant negative material. Journal Of Abnormal Psychology, 117(1), 182-192. doi:10.1037/0021-843X.117.1.182.

Kornell, N. (2014, July 28). How Major Depression Impaired My Cognitive Ability. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/everybody-is-stupid-except-you/201407/how-major-depression-impaired-my-cognitive-ability.  

Peckham, A.D., McHugh, R.K., and Otto, M.W. (2010), A meta‐analysis of the magnitude of biased attention in depression. Depress. Anxiety, 27: 1135-1142. https://doi.org/10.1002/da.20755

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