Your Brain & Clinical Depression

Your brain contains approximately 100 billion nerve cells. It should come as no surprise that this complex, intricate organ is vulnerable to illness just like any other part of the body.

As your body’s central command system, the brain regulates everything in your body. Chemicals called neurotransmitters send messages from one nerve cell to another. The messages pass on information about virtually every function in your body --–from body temperature, appetite and muscle movement to thoughts, memory and emotions. The type of information passed on depends on which neurons are activated and what part of the brain is stimulated.

In healthy brains, normal mood and cognition will always be restored, regardless of the level of negative stress or loss. Your brain is designed to adjust quickly to minor everyday stresses. While it takes longer to recover from major losses, eventually, normal mood and cognition are restored.

With clinical depression, the combination of chemical imbalance and damage to brain cells and neural pathways causes debilitating symptoms. The neurotransmitters serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine are depleted. This stops the messages from continuing on their way, disrupting thought, mood, sleep, energy, motivation, memory, cognition, perception, and immunity. Physical symptoms such as muscle and joint pain, chronic fatigue, headaches, digestive problems, and weight fluctuations are also common.

Emotions are regulated by the limbic system, primarily the pre-frontal cortex, the amygdala and the hippocampus. If any one of these regions is damaged or malfunctioning, or, if the different regions are not working together properly, you have no control over your emotions or the thoughts that influence those emotions.

Forming a thought is as much a physical action as moving your arm, dancing or smiling. You only have control over your thoughts if the nerve cells in that part of the brain are working properly.

A person suffering from clinical depression can't "just snap out of it" any more than someone paralyzed by a stroke can "will" to move the the affected muscles and limbs.

Anti-depressant medication is designed to restore chemical balance and alleviate the symptoms of depressive illness. Medication also helps the brain cells and neural pathways heal. The potential for full recovery depends on the degree of damage caused by depressive illness. Some people who have suffered from untreated and severe major depressive disorder for a lengthy period of time must take medication for the rest of their lives.

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