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Certain mental health disorders can impact the brain in profound ways. Mental health disorders such as depression alter the brain structurally and its chemistry. Depression is far more than just a mood disorder and involves complex neurological changes within the brain. Thus, it is a complex disorder to try and manage independently.

Research is still being conducted to figure out every single way that depression can affect the brain. Three areas of the brain have been clearly observed to change the most if someone has depression — inflammation, brain composition, and a decrease in oxygen. Each of these areas, in turn, can impact someone’s mood and behavior even more.

3 Ways Depression Impact The Brain

1. Inflammation

The connection between inflammation and depression is a little blurry. It’s unclear if depression causes inflammation or if it manifests for other reasons. However, it is known that a person who has battled depression for 10 or more years has more inflammation in the brain than someone who did not. Small amounts of inflammation are even found in someone who only battled it for shorter periods.

Regardless of what causes inflammation in the brain, two possibilities result from it.

  • The brain ages faster because of a reduction in neuroplasticity.
  • Neurotransmitters and neurons do not grow as quickly, increasing the likelihood of cognitive problems developing.

2. Brain Composition Changes

When the body and mind are stressed, it releases a stress hormone called cortisol.

Cortisol is believed to change the composition of the brain. The brain areas most susceptible to brain shrinkage are the hippocampus, thalamus, and frontal and prefrontal cortex. Contrastingly, cortisol can increase the size of the amygdala. These changes in brain composition can result in:

  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Changes in speech (talking slower or more quickly,)
  • Memory issues
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Changes in appetite (eating too much or not enough.)
  • Brain fog
  • Negative emotions
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Mood swings

photo of a man smiling at the camera while crossing the street3. Decrease In Oxygen

Depression and stress can alter a person’s breathing patterns. When someone is highly stressed, they may find their breath more labored and shallow. As a result of this decrease in oxygen, someone could exhibit any of the following signs:

  • Loss of fine motor skills
  • Inability to make rational decisions
  • Memory loss

More Effects Of Depression On The Brain


The stress hormone enlarges the amygdala. At first glance, that might seem like a good thing, right? If other areas of the brain are shrinking, then it might seem ok that the amygdala increases. Actually, this doesn’t create balance. Instead, what this increase in size does is completely throws off your mood and emotions.

Instead of having a balanced emotional state, someone is more likely to experience feelings in extreme and intense ways. This emotional dysfunction can then lead to sleep disturbances, such as sleeping too much or not enough. In turn, this only creates a cycle of negative moods and thoughts.

Physical Problems

Changes in the brain don’t just impact someone’s mental health. It can also causes:

  • Heart disease (due to stress hormones consistently being present.)
  • Substance usage as a way to self-medicate and temporarily feel better
  • Stomachaches
  • Headaches

The Bottom Line

Depression goes far beyond just being sad. It has a profound impact on the brain as a whole, which trickles down into other areas of a person’s life. It truly creates a negative cycle.

If you are battling depression and have been unable to get yourself out of it, it truly is not your fault. Depression, as you can see from above, is a complex disorder. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t fight out of this darkness because you can. Don’t hesitate to reach out to learn more about depression treatment and how we can help you.