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Persistent Depression Damages Cognitive Functions, Study Concludes

Persistent Depression Damages Cognitive Functions, Study Concludes

A global study involving 9,000 people has found that persistent and recurring depression can lead to a shrinking of one key area of the brain. This zone is known as the hippocampus (Greek for seahorse) and it does indeed look like one.

This is the area which helps us store long term memories and plays an essential role in connecting our emotions to memories, personality, and consciousness. It can also help us with spatial navigation. It is one of the first areas of the brain to be affected by Alzheimer’s and explains why recent memories are such a big problem for those affected.

Research details

The depression research project involved 15 institutes from all over the world. Researchers compared people possessing normal hippocampi with those who were suffering from persistent depression. This was the largest comparative study of brain volumes ever carried out. The results showed that people who had no treatment for depression (or had recurring episodes over long periods) ended up with a smaller hippocampus.

Researchers used brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and this clearly showed that two thirds of the depressed patients who had recurrences over long periods of time were the ones who had a smaller hippocampus.

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“The more episodes of depression a person had, the greater the reduction in hippocampus size.” – Prof. Ian Hickie, co-director of the research project

What are the implications for the treatment of depression?

First, the good news is that treatment with anti-depressants may help to preserve the size of the hippocampus. There are a wide variety of these drugs available, including Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, or SSRIs, which help to balance serotonin and can improve mood. Other popular medications include tricyclic antidepressants.

Of course, it must be remembered that all anti-depressants are required by the FDA to carry a black box warning of possible suicidal thoughts. This usually occurs at the beginning of treatment in teens and young adults or if a drug or dosage is changed.

“There is a lot of nonsense said about antidepressants that constantly perpetuates the evils of them, but there is a good bit of evidence that they have a protective effect.”- Prof. Ian Hickie.

Experts are now convinced that medication in treating depression is just one of the many alternatives available.

Why talk therapy is a valid alternative

Talk therapy is another possible treatment for depression, with various types that can suit individual needs. The chance to talk about depression without being judged, misunderstood or even criticized cannot be overestimated. It is a great way to approach problems and possible ways of solving them. Most medications can never do that quite as effectively.

Additionally, there is a wide range of supplements and lifestyle changes which can help a patient to maintain balance and prevent relapses. These can range from exercise which helps the brain to rewire itself in positive ways to dietary and mindfulness routines.

Research presents no conclusive results regardging the use of supplements but it seems that fish oil, SAMe and folic acid hold out some promise.

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“There’s promising evidence for certain supplements for depression. But more research needs to be done before we’ll know for sure.” – Dr. Ian Cook, Director of the Depression Research Program at UCLA.

The way forward

Depression is still not fully understood. We know that certain areas of the brain such as the hippocampus are involved, but experts are not sure how they all interlink and what mechanisms are at work.

“Despite intensive research aimed at identifying brain structures linked to depression in recent decades, our understanding of what causes depression is still rudimentary.”- Prof. Jim Lagapoulos, co-author of the research project, Brain and Mind Research Institute, University of Sydney.

One thing is certain. We have learned from the research on the hippocampus that lack of treatment or recurring depression are affecting the brain. Processing emotions and memories are at risk. That sends a very clear message — there may be other areas of the brain affected which may have more serious consequences. But this damage is in many cases also reversible.

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This is why we can never ignore depression and always seek treatment when or if it should happen to us or our loved ones.

Featured photo credit: Sigh, Clouds, Rain, Sigh, Iceland via flickr.com

More by this author

Robert Locke

Author of Ziger the Tiger Stories, a health enthusiast specializing in relationships, life improvement and mental health.

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Last Updated on September 28, 2020

The Pros and Cons of Working from Home

The Pros and Cons of Working from Home

At the start of the year, if you had asked anyone if they could do their work from home, many would have said no. They would have cited the need for team meetings, a place to be able to sit down and get on with their work, the camaraderie of the office, and being able to meet customers and clients face to face.

Almost ten months later, most of us have learned that we can do our work from home and in many ways, we have discovered working from home is a lot better than doing our work in a busy, bustling office environment where we are inundated with distractions and noise.

One of the things the 2020 pandemic has reminded us is we humans are incredibly adaptable. It is one of the strengths of our kind. Yet we have been unknowingly practicing this for years. When we move house we go through enormous upheaval.

When we change jobs, we not only change our work environment but we also change the surrounding people. Humans are adaptable and this adaptability gives us strength.

So, what are the pros and cons of working from home? Below I will share some things I have discovered since I made the change to being predominantly a person who works from home.

Pro #1: A More Relaxed Start to the Day

This one I love. When I had to be at a place of work in the past, I would always set my alarm to give me just enough time to make coffee, take a shower, and change. Mornings always felt like a rush.

Now, I can wake up a little later, make coffee and instead of rushing to get out of the door at a specific time, I can spend ten minutes writing in my journal, reviewing my plan for the day, and start the day in a more relaxed frame of mind.

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When you start the day in a relaxed state, you begin more positively. You find you have more clarity and more focus and you are not wasting energy worrying about whether you will be late.

Pro #2: More Quiet, Focused Time = Increased Productivity

One of the biggest difficulties of working in an office is the noise and distractions. If a colleague or boss can see you sat at your desk, you are more approachable. It is easier for them to ask you questions or engage you in meaningless conversations.

Working from home allows you to shut the door and get on with an hour or two of quiet focused work. If you close down your Slack and Email, you avoid the risk of being disturbed and it is amazing how much work you can get done.

An experiment conducted in 2012 found that working from home increased a person’s productivity by 13%, and more recent studies also find significant increases in productivity.[1]

When our productivity increases, the amount of time we need to perform our work decreases, and this means we can spend more time on activities that can bring us closer to our family and friends as well as improve our mental health.

Pro #3: More Control Over Your Day

Without bosses and colleagues watching over us all day, we have a lot more control over what we do. While some work will inevitably be more urgent than others, we still get a lot more choice about what we work on.

We also get more control over where we work. I remember when working in an office, we were given a fixed workstation. Some of these workstations were pleasant with a lot of natural sunlight, but other areas were less pleasant. It was often the luck of the draw whether we find ourselves in a good place to work or not.

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By working from home we can choose what work to work on and whether we want to face a window or not. We can get up and move to another place, and we can move from room to room. And if you have a garden, on nice days you could spend a few hours working outside.

Pro #4: You Get to Choose Your Office Environment

While many companies will provide you with a laptop or other equipment to do your work, others will give you an allowance to purchase your equipment. But with furniture such as your chair and desk, you have a lot of freedom.

I have seen a lot of amazing home working spaces with wonderful sets up—better chairs, laptop stands that make working from a laptop much more ergonomic and therefore, better for your neck.

You can also choose your wall art and the little nick-nacks on your desk or table. With all this freedom, you can create a very personal and excellent working environment that is a pleasure to work in. When you are happy doing your work, you will inevitably do better work.

Con #1: We Move a Lot Less

When we commute to a place of work, there is movement involved. Many people commute using public transport, which means walking to the bus stop or train station. Then, there is the movement at lunchtime when we go out to buy our lunch. Working in a place of work requires us to move more.

Unfortunately, working from home naturally causes us to move less and this means we are not burning as many calories as we need to.

Moving is essential to our health and if you are working from home you need to become much more aware of your movement. To ensure you are moving enough, make sure you take your lunch breaks. Get up from your desk and move. Go outside, if you can, and take a walk. And, of course, refrain from regular trips to the refrigerator.

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Con #2: Less Human Interaction

One of the nicest things about bringing a group of people together to work is the camaraderie and relationships that are built over time. Working from home takes us away from that human interaction and for many, this can cause a feeling of loss.

Humans are a social species—we need to be with other people. Without that connection, we start to feel lonely and that can lead to mental health issues.

Zoom and Microsoft Teams meeting cannot replace that interaction. Often, the interactions we get at our workplaces are spontaneous. But with video calls, there is nothing spontaneous—most of these calls are prearranged and that’s not spontaneous.

This lack of spontaneous interaction can also reduce a team’s ability to develop creative solutions—there’s just something about a group of incredibly creative people coming together in a room to thrash out ideas together that lends itself to creativity.

While video calls can be useful, they don’t match the connection between a group of people working on a solution together.

Con #3: The Cost of Buying Home Office Equipment

Not all companies are going to provide you with a nice allowance to buy expensive home office equipment. 100% remote companies such as Doist (the creators of Todoist and Twist) provide a $2,000 allowance to all their staff every two years to buy office equipment. Others are not so generous.

This can prove to be expensive for many people to create their ideal work-from-home workspace. Many people must make do with what they already have, and that could mean unsuitable chairs that damage backs and necks.

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For a future that will likely involve more flexible working arrangements, companies will need to support their staff in ways that will add additional costs to an already reduced bottom line.

Con #4: Unique Distractions

Not all people have the benefit of being able to afford childcare for young children, and this means they need to balance working and taking care of their kids.

For many parents, being able to go to a workplace gives them time away from the noise and demands of a young family, so they could get on with their work. Working from home removes this and can make doing video calls almost impossible.

To overcome this, where possible, you need to set some boundaries. I know this is not always possible, but it is something you need to try. You should do whatever you can to make sure you have some boundaries between your work life and home life.

Final Thoughts

Working from home can be hugely beneficial for many people, but it can also bring serious challenges to others.

We are moving towards a new way of working. Therefore, companies need to look at both the pros and cons of working from home and be prepared to support their staff in making this transition. It will not be impossible, but a lot of thought will need to go into it.

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Featured photo credit: Standsome Worklifestyle via unsplash.com

Reference

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