What Happens To the Brain During Depression?

Man in contemplation, face resting on folded hands

It is estimated that more than 264 million people suffer from depression around the world. This condition is wide-spread and can affect anyone, no matter how well they take care of themselves. Unfortunately, being depressed can have a profoundly negative impact on your brain, which makes recovery more difficult. Here at Dr. Melissa Lopez-Larson & Associates in Park City, UT, we offer a comprehensive range of treatments to address your issue.

Having a consistently low mood is not only related to inflammation in your brain and lower levels of oxygen, but it can actually cause your brain tissue to shrink and stop working properly. This is why getting the help you need is so crucial. Read on to find out more about how your condition affects your brain and what you could do to recover.

What Happens To the Brain During Depression?

Mental health challenges often have complex causes and consequences, and it isn’t always clear which one is which. Although there are increasing numbers of studies done on these issues, they are not yet well researched enough. We are still only just discovering how the brain reacts to a consistent low mood and what chemical causes can trigger this problem.

One of the most worrying factors is that being depressed can affect the volume of your brain. Because the chemical processes inhibit the formation of new connections, many of your most important structures will start to deteriorate. As a result, you will have a much harder time functioning as normal. Let’s have a closer look at how your brain is affected by your mood and what the long-term consequences could be.

A Loss of Gray Matter Volume

Many studies have shown that you may actually lose gray matter volume when you are majorly depressed. The worse your condition, the more likely you are to lose a significant amount of your brain’s tissues. This is triggered by an imbalance in the hormone cortisol, which is the substance responsible for stress. Your hippocampus will produce more of it and thereby hinder your neurons from developing.

Brain shrinkage affects several different areas, such as the prefrontal cortex, frontal cortex, hippocampus, and thalamus, so many of your most important functions, like concentration and decision-making, will be affected. At the same time, your amygdala, the part of your brain that regulates your emotions, expands. This can cause a number of problems like sleep disturbances or further mood disorders.


People who are depressed usually have inflammation in their brains. It is not currently clear which issue causes the other. While some doctors argue that your brain becomes inflamed due to your low mood, others say that the inflammation causes the mental health issue. No matter what, this can be a serious issue because it kills your neurons, therefore causing further issues in your brain.

Neuroplasticity is your ability to change and adapt your function over the course of your life. When your brain is inflamed, this is significantly reduced, so you may not be able to adjust to new conditions. Over the long term, you might start to develop cognitive problems that can further fuel your mental health disorder.

Restricted Oxygen

It is not clear whether being depressed affects your oxygen levels, but there is a possibility that the two are linked. The leading theory states that low mood changes the way you breathe. You are unlikely to take long, slow breaths like healthy people if you are constantly feeling down. This can cause an issue called hypoxia, or, oxygen restriction.

Even if you only have slight hypoxia, you might start to notice some unpleasant symptoms. Many patients will experience bad judgment, memory loss, and reduced motor skills. These problems can then make your mood worse, as you feel that you are not functioning as well as before. As a result, you are stuck in a destructive downwards spiral.

How Can You Address this Condition?

The effects being depressed has on your life can sound scary, and you might worry about the long-term consequences. Luckily, there is a wide variety of treatments available that can stop you from getting worse or from developing severe mental health issues in the first place. The best way to find out more is to visit your local specialist, Dr. Melissa Lopez-Larson, and find out what treatments she suggests.

No matter the severity of your disease, you deserve to get the help you need. We prefer a multi-pronged approach, which means that we’ll attack your condition in a variety of ways and resolve both the cause and symptoms. In addition to traditional medication, we might choose to treat you using transcranial magnetic stimulation, supplements, mediation, and lifestyle changes.


Antidepressants are the most commonly known treatment for people who are clinically depressed. They work amazingly well and can help you function normally, even if your condition is severe. It is thought that they increase certain chemicals called neurotransmitters in your brain and therefore lift your mood, but specialists are still researching how exactly this medication works.

Once you start to take your pills, you will most likely feel better after just one or two weeks. While some people will be advised to keep taking antidepressants indefinitely, most will stop around six months after their symptoms have subsided. Thus, you could be back to normal in less than a year, and you won’t have to suffer in the meantime.

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

Transcranial magnetic stimulation, also called TMS, delivers a magnetic pulse to your brain that can stimulate the nerves in the part of your brain that regulates your emotions. This can reactivate those regions that have become less functional since your depression and therefore lift your mood. If traditional medication doesn’t work well for you or you’d like to try a non-chemical treatment, this could be an excellent choice for you.

Many people start to notice a difference after as little as two weeks, although it takes longer for some. Depending on your condition and your goals, we will treat you at the clinic for several weeks or even months. However, the sessions are minimally invasive, so you won’t need to stay at a hospital overnight or undergo a lengthy recovery process.


Countless Americans are malnourished, although they might not realize it. In fact, around 75% of us are chronically dehydrated, and 90% are missing one or more nutrient on a daily basis. It goes without saying that this can cause many issues, both physical and mental. Dr. Lopez-Larson will examine your diet to see if you are missing any important vitamins or minerals that could be contributing to your problem.

In particular, people who are not consuming enough of certain types of vitamin B could be at risk. This group of nutrients helps regulate emotions in your brain. Similarly, seasonal depression is sometimes linked to a deficiency in vitamin D or melatonin, and your issue could be greatly reduced if you take these supplements.


Therapy is a crucial part of recovering from being clinically depressed. In fact, medicine is not recommended in mild cases. Instead, a combination of making positive lifestyle choices, talking therapy, and meditation can be an effective way to address such mental health conditions. Mindfulness-based meditation can be particularly effective because it helps you to be in the moment and release damaging thoughts about the future and the past.

Here at the clinic, we believe that meditation is an integral part of your healing process, so we will often combine it with some of our modern medicine methods. While the latter will resolve your chemical imbalance or issues in the brain, meditation can allow you to address the emotional reasons for your condition.

Exercise and Nutrition

Finally, your lifestyle plays a huge role in how successful your treatment will be. No matter how long you come to the clinic for TMS or medication, you won’t fully recover unless you build up a healthy, sustainable lifestyle. Our specialists will help you work through your current challenges and find new ways of building healthy habits.

For example, they can encourage you to find types of exercise that you enjoy and work with you to improve your diet. This might include taking some supplements as well as learning to create new, more nutritionally balanced, meals.

Tackle Your Mental Health Condition Now

Depression is a complex condition that affects the brain in a number of ways. Because everyone’s situation is different, we offer a wide variety of treatments and will often combine several methods to help you heal fully. Call us now at Dr. Melissa Lopez-Larson & Associates in Park City, UT to speak to a specialist. We will be happy to come up with an action plan and help you get the better of your condition.