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What Causes Depression in the Brain?

A woman struggling with depression at home looking out the window.
Learn what causes depression in the brain today.

If you struggle with depression, you’ve probably heard it’s caused by a chemical imbalance in your brain. While this is technically correct, the whole picture is a bit more complex. There’s no question that the chemicals in your brain play an important role, but it’s not as simple as one of those chemicals being too high or too low.

Over the last 20 years, scientists and mental health experts have learned so much more about the causes of depression. In this post, we’re going to break down the causes of depression in the brain so you can get a better understanding of your mental health.

Areas of the Brain That Can Contribute to Depression

The Amygdala

The amygdala is part of your brain’s limbic system, which helps you regulate emotions like anger, sorrow, fear, joy and pleasure. This area of the brain is often activated when you think of a memory that is packed with emotion. Many people who are depressed have a more active amygdala, triggering heightened feelings of fear and sadness.

The Thalamus

Think of the thalamus as the switchboard of your brain. It receives sensory information and relays it to the appropriate section of the brain. These signals direct your speech, behavioral reactions, thinking and learning. It is possible for the thalamus to send stronger signals for negative emotions than the positive ones. While it is rare, this natural disruption can assist in causing depression.

The Hippocampus

The hippocampus is also part of the limbic system and is responsible for helping process long-term memories. It’s also the part of the brain that records any fear that takes place in anything you experience, like when another car cuts in front of you on the road. If your hippocampus is smaller, your response to stress can be more severe, making it more likely for you to develop depression.

The Role Your Genes Have on Depression

Every characteristic and aspect about your body and mind is determined by genes – and that includes mental health disorders. The truth is your genes can actually make you more likely to develop depression in your lifetime.
One of the easiest ways to understand this phenomenon is looking at how depression can run in families. In fact, if you have a close family member with depression, that increases your own risk of developing a depression disorder by 3 percent.

Since our mood is affected by a wide variety of genes, researchers are currently working on identifying those that play a significant part in mental health conditions like depression. Right now, the bulk of research is trying to identify the genes connected to stress response. Many aspects of depression are linked to how we respond to the stressors in our life. If your body and mind have more severe reactions to stress, this can be a key factor in the eventual development of depression.

Stressful Life Events Also Need to Be Considered

Whether it’s the passing of a loved one, losing your job or a lack of social connections, everyone experiences stressful and challenging events. However, how long this stress lasts and how you react to it affects the likelihood of depression. Short-lived stress won’t have lasting effects on your mental health, but chronic stress can have lasting changes on your mind and body.

Stressful or traumatic situations combined with genetics and the biology of your brain give you a more accurate picture of your risk for developing depression. But no matter what your depression has made you endure over the years, there is hope for recovery.

Discover Premier Mental Health Treatment at The Raleigh House

At The Raleigh House, we know how much of a strain depression can put on your life. That’s why we offer a depression treatment approach that combines evidence-based treatments and experiential therapies. Our team will help you work through your symptoms and help you regain a life free from depression.

Contact our admission team today to learn more about our approach to mental health and dual diagnosis treatments.

Call Now: 720-891-4657

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