Is brain damage from depression reversible? (A complete guide)

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In this article, we will answer the question “is brain damage from depression reversible?” We will begin by discussing what brain damage is, and how depression can cause it, and then we will discuss how it affects us. Finally, we will talk about whether it can be reversible, along with the ways to live with it.

Is brain damage from depression reversible?

Brain damage from depression is reversible to some extent if provided the proper treatment. Psychological disorders and depression can structurally alter your brain to a neurochemical level. Brain damage is a serious problem; especially brain damage brought from depression may alter certain parts of our brain that may have a significant impact on our behavioral and emotional traits. Although up to 20 percent of depression patients never make it to full recovery, this damage can be blocked or reversed with certain behavioral and pharmacological therapy.

Brain damage, what is it?

Brain damage is a serious injury that causes the brain cells to degenerate and deteriorate. Whether it is caused by trauma, injuries, tumors, chronic mental illnesses, or a stroke, brain damage evokes physiological, behavioral, cognitive, and perceptual changes in a person that affect their lives.

Characteristics of Brain damage escalated from depression 

Since this blog is about brain damage as a cause of depression, we will discuss what brain damage from depression looks like. 

Brain damage from depression may be caused by chronic depression, most probably to begin in the early years or later adulthood. This depression could be acquired after birth through some external forces like physical, emotional, social abuse, and neglect, etc.

Upon comparison, a significant difference between normal and depressed brains is found. Some of the major differences included changes in brain size (shrinkage), grey matter volume (lesser in certain areas), amygdala functions (increased activity), and hyperoxia. 

How does depression brain damage affect you? 5 ways

Brain damage from depression affects you physically, emotionally and also impairs your cognitive abilities. It is not a trauma that you’d get from a traumatic brain injury, nor is it some discrete lesion you’d get from a stroke; it’s something much more subtle that can’t be diagnosed just by observing your behavioral patterns. 

Physical effects

Physical symptoms of brain damage include

  • Extreme fatigue, mental and physical
  • Weakness
  • paralysis
  • sensitivity to light
  • tremors
  • dizziness
  • problems with speech

Structural and Emotional effects

Cortisol is a stress hormone, secreted in stressful situations. A depressed brain is shown to have greater amounts of cortisol secreted than a normal brain.

Consequently, the brain shrinks from specific areas due to decreases and neurotransmitters and gray matter volume. Hippocampus and prefrontal cortex are these specific areas, which are responsible for memory and thinking. 

Amygdala is an active part of the brain structure that is responsible to help you control your emotions and take care of yourself. Amygdala activity is correlated with stress. Studies show increased amygdala activity in depression patients. Increased amygdala activity has also shown abnormal responses to different emotional stimuli, be it stress, anger, fear. Hence, the prominent changes in behavioral responses such as social isolation, anxiety, intense emotional reactions such as aggression, and mood regulations are probable effects that can be traced back to amygdala irregularity during the depression.

Hypoxia, a condition of oxygen deficiency is also evident to have correspondence with depression. This could also propel brain cell damage and brain injury, resulting in complications in memory, learning, and mood. The physical and structural responses of depression on the brain are the leading cause of the cognitive and behavioral irregularities that follow.(Pandya, Altinay, Malone, Jr., & Anand, 2012)

Cognitive effects

Some of the cognitive malfunctions that a brain injury may cause are mentioned below

  • Difficulty processing information
  • Difficulty understanding 
  • Low concentration span
  • Inability to understand abstract concepts
  • The difficulty In expressing thoughts

Effect on Lifestyle

These are some recurring patterns in statistical analysis for lifestyle changes that proceed to lead from brain damage and depression.

  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Changes in appetite
  • Lower energy levels
  • Loss of interest, motivation
  • Hopelessness
  • Social isolation
  • Memory problems
Is brain damage from depression reversible? (A complete guide)

Is brain damage reversible? 

Brain damage from depression, if sustained for a long time, can cause long-lasting effects and even permanent ones. But some conditions can be minimized, and even reversed although that’s very challenging. The longer you let your condition untreated, the deeper it affects and harder it gets to treat it. Studies show a 10 percent reduction in hippocampus volumes in patients with major depressive disorder. The long-term effects may reduce, alter, destruct the brain structure leading to reduction or loss of cognitive functions. With a severe brain injury where the person may suffer life-changing debilities, they will have cognitive, behavioral, and physical disabilities. Barely responsive people may depend on the care of others for the rest of their lives.

The concept that the brain can reproduce new nerve cells is unflinchingly accurate but there is evidence that shows neurogenesis is possible in three specialized locations. These three regions are associated with learning, memory, management of movement, and correlation of some neurons connecting the nose and brain. These theories are the possibilities that are hopeful of the complete curability of brain damage.

While certain therapies help reduce and reverse the effects of brain damage, certain lifestyle changes are also suggested to help improve the efficacy in patients.

Different treatments that can help you 

Antidepressant treatment

Depression causes alteration, disruption in the neural networks. These networks are responsible for essential functioning. Since we’ve already established that neurochemical changes occur with brain damage and how they affect us, a patient needs medical attention to counter the symptoms, induce cell repair, and reduce the brain loss that comes with depression.

  • Ketamine therapy is a dissociative therapy that provides dissociative anesthesia for highly severe cases of depression and is not recommended for casual use.
  • Tricyclic antidepressants like Doxepin, Amoxapine, and Desipramine are FDA-approved drugs that are used to treat conditions associated with depression and improve the symptoms of depression.
  • SSRI therapies that inhibit selective serotonin reuptake. Where serotonin is a mood regulator neurotransmitter, hence improving your symptoms, furthermore making you more responsive to therapy like CBT.

Exercise 

Exercise has several neuroprotective and cognitive effects particularly when it comes to memory and learning, and not to mention how it implicates mood elevation. 

Exercise raises the heart rate, allowing more oxygen to reach the brain. This helps to reduce the hyperoxia, an oxygen-deficient state that occurs from depression.

Exercise also induces brain plasticity in several cortical areas of the brain by rewiring and repairing its neural networks, thus the brain can adapt itself to live with the changes and alterations. 

Scientists have elaborated through thorough research that neurogenesis is mediated by exercise. Neurogenesis is the process by which new neurons are formed in the brain. Hippocampus has been shown to increase In size in adult humans, and a great means for that to happen is through exercise which produces BDNF, a contributing factor, in the hippocampus. 

Cognitive-behavioral therapy(CBT)

For people who are struggling to recover from brain injury, cognitive impairment is the major barrier they get to face. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is an effective way that helps to alter your perspective. The main goal of cognitive therapy is to better the cognitive functions that are disrupted by brain damage. In short, the goal is for you to feel better, changing the way you respond to negative stimuli. This is done by observing your feelings, behaviors, and thought processes, and improving your results with substitutes, reframing your thinking with the help of bonafide experts. 

How can we avoid it

The best way to avoid brain injury from depression is to have it diagnosed and treated at an early stage. The longer you leave it untreated, the lesser the chances for recovery. This is probably why cases of major depressive disorder are harder to treat.

Even though brain damage has a significant effect on your life, it may also affect those around you. Some people might react to a brain injury differently. Many people might not even be familiar with it.

What not to say

Having an affected person in your family or as a closed one may cause you to sometimes burst out, say something in frustration, you may even say something unintentional and ordinary to set them off. Here are some phrases that you casually say on a daily basis, which may prove unhelpful or offsetting to a brain-damaged person.

  • You seem fine to me: depression although noticeable, it’s not a visible disease. Sometimes people fail to realize how much one thing can affect every person differently. 
  • It’s all in your head: ironically. It really is, “all in their head” but they don’t mean it that way. What they mean is you’re overthinking it.
  • Try a little harder:  chronic pain, fatigue, anxiety, lack of motivation. These are the symptoms of depression that actually make it hard to go about their daily chores and activities. They’re already trying their best.
  • Think about the good things: Depression prevents you from seeing the good things. It is a typical mood disorder, a debility that renders you unable to think positively.

FAQ

Can the brain repair itself after brain damage?

It is said that major wounds can’t heal without scarring. When a brain is damaged, medical help can reduce or minimize, yet even recover the effects but to some extent, sometimes you are left with disabilities that persist for the rest of your life. A brain may be able to rewire or reorganize itself after an injury, improving and adapting to external stimuli that may be the cause of the disrupted networks, this process is known as neuroplasticity. 

What type of therapy is the most common in treating brain damage?

  • Occupational therapy: This type of therapy provides aid to people who have physical, mental and cognitive problems, to help them gain control in essential areas of their lives including their everyday activities. This therapy may also include exercises to improve motor skills.
  • Psychotherapy including cognitive behavioural therapy
  • Antidepressant therapy
  • Physical therapy(exercises and meditation)

Can CBT improve our neural networks?

Yes. CBT is the therapy that gives you a new outlook by sustained practices of new behavior that allows you to think in a new way. Similarly, neural networks are restructured by repetition of practices of thinking, feeling, and behaving. 

Conclusion

In this blog, we have addressed the question, “is brain damage reversible? “

We have given a brief understanding of brain damage from depression, its causes, and effects, leading to our main question, is it reversible? 

We have established that brain damage is curable but conditionally,depending on the nature and level of damage. It requires individual treatments to encounter what the patient needs. To counter the symptoms and reduce the effects of brain damage, certain therapies are provided to repair the damage and improve the distorted functions. It is also implicated that a stress management lifestyle may be an important aspect in coping with this condition.

References

How Exercise Affects Your Brain – Scientific American. (n.d.). Retrieved November 4, 2021, from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-exercise-affects-your-brain/

Pandya, M., Altinay, M., Malone, D. A., Jr., & Anand, A. (2012). Where in the Brain Is Depression? Current Psychiatry Reports, 14(6), 634. https://doi.org/10.1007/S11920-012-0322-7

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