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Depression and The Brain: A Depressed Brain vs. A Normal Brain

When most people think of depression, they think of the emotional and behavioral effects of depression.

Some people may even consider some of the physical effects like weight change or irregular sleep problems, but what many people tend to forget about is the connection between depression and the brain. Scientists have speculated for many years about what a depressed brain looks like and have found key differences between a depressed brain versus a normal brain.

The Difference Between a Depressed Brain vs. a Normal Brain

At Banyan Mental Health, our Boca mood and anxiety disorder treatment programs work with people who struggle with depression, and we are familiar with the many ways that this disorder can affect someone. Although our treatments focus on healing our patient’s mental health, the brain of someone with depression is not to be ignored. When comparing a depressed brain versus a normal brain, scientists have found some subtle but important differences.

Grey Matter Abnormalities

Grey matter in the brain refers to brain tissue that is made up of cell bodies and nerve cells. People with depression were shown to have thicker grey matter in parts of the brain involved in self-perception and emotions.1 This abnormality could be contributing to the problems someone with depression has in these areas.

Brain Shrinkage

Cortisol is the stress hormone in the brain. People who suffer from major depression disorder release larger amounts of cortisol than the average person. The result of this long-term exposure is that parts of the brain can actually shrink, including the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex, which are involved in memory and decision making.2 One study found that on average, women with a history of depression had between 9-13% smaller hippocampi than someone who never struggled with depression.3

More Active Amygdala

The amygdala is a brain structure that is typically associated with regulating emotions. People with depression are often found to have a more active amygdala than in a normal brain. In particular, the amygdala in depressed people is more active than in people without depression when exposed to a negative stimulus such as a sad face. When both people are exposed to a positive stimulus like a happy face, there is little difference.4 Scientists speculate that, once again, increased levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, could be the cause of this abnormality.

One problem with these differences is the case of directionality. Does an altered brain structure and chemical function cause depression? Or, are these a result of depression? Scientists are still debating. Another problem arises when substance abuse is involved. Many people will turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with their depression, which can result in even messier brain abnormalities. In these cases, our dual diagnosis treatment in South Florida works with patients to address both issues at once.

As part of our mental illness treatment in Boca, we work with our patients to not only help them heal, but also to educate them on every aspect of their disorder.




If you or someone you love is struggling with depression or another mental health disorder, reach out to us today. By calling 888-280-4763, we will walk you through the process.


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  1. Psychiatry & Behavioral Health Learning Network – Brain Scans Show Structural Differences in Anxiety, Depression
  2. Healthline – The Effects of Depression on the Brain
  3. Science Daily – Depression May Shrink Key Brain Structure
  4. The University of Queensland Australia – Depression and the brain
Alyssa
Alyssa
Alyssa is Banyan’s Director of Digital Marketing & Technology. After overcoming her own struggles with addiction, she began working in the treatment field in 2012. She graduated from Palm Beach State College in 2016 with additional education in Salesforce University programs. A part of the Banyan team since 2016, Alyssa brings over 5 years of experience in the addiction treatment field.

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