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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 May 15, 2019

How to Tap Into the Power of Positivity

How to Tap Into the Power of Positivity

As it appears, the human mind is not capable of not thinking, at least on the subconscious level. Our mind is always occupied by thoughts, whether we want to or not, and they influence our every action.

“Happiness cannot come from without, it comes from within.” – Helen Keller

When we are still children, our thoughts seem to be purely positive. Have you ever been around a 4-year old who doesn’t like a painting he or she drew? I haven’t. Instead, I see glee, exciting and pride in children’s eyes. But as the years go by, we clutter our mind with doubts, fears and self-deprecating thoughts.

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Just imagine then how much we limit ourselves in every aspect of our lives if we give negative thoughts too much power! We’ll never go after that job we’ve always wanted because our nay-saying thoughts make us doubt our abilities. We’ll never ask that person we like out on a date because we always think we’re not good enough.

We’ll never risk quitting our job in order to pursue the life and the work of our dreams because we can’t get over our mental barrier that insists we’re too weak, too unimportant and too dumb. We’ll never lose those pounds that risk our health because we believe we’re not capable of pushing our limits. We’ll never be able to fully see our inner potential because we simply don’t dare to question the voices in our head.

But enough is enough! It’s time to stop these limiting beliefs and come to a place of sanity, love and excitement about life, work and ourselves.

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So…how exactly are we to achieve that?

It’s not as hard as it may seem; you just have to practice, practice, practice. Here are a few ideas on how you can get started.

1. Learn to substitute every negative thought with a positive one.

Every time a negative thought crawls into your mind, replace it with a positive thought. It’s just like someone writes a phrase you don’t like on a blackboard and then you get up, erase it and write something much more to your liking.

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2. See the positive side of every situation, even when you are surrounded by pure negativity.

This one is a bit harder to put into practice, which does not mean it’s impossible.

You can find positivity in everything by mentally holding on to something positive, whether this be family, friends, your faith, nature, someone’s sparkling eyes or whatever other glimmer of beauty. If you seek it, you will find it.

3. At least once a day, take a moment and think of 5 things you are grateful for.

This will lighten your mood and give you some perspective of what is really important in life and how many blessings surround you already.

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4. Change the mental images you allow to enter your mind.

How you see yourself and your surroundings make a huge difference to your thinking. It is like watching a DVD that saddens and frustrates you, completely pulling you down. Eject that old DVD, throw it away and insert a new, better, more hopeful one instead.

So, instead of dwelling on dark, negative thoughts, consciously build and focus on positive, light and colorful images, thoughts and situations in your mind a few times a day.

If you are persistent and keep on working on yourself, your mind will automatically reject its negative thoughts and welcome the positive ones.

And remember: You are (or will become) what you think you are. This is reason enough to be proactive about whatever is going on in your head.

Featured photo credit: Kyaw Tun via unsplash.com

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