Depression is arguably the most prevalent mental disorder in the world, affecting over 350 million globally every day. Despite being commonly attributed to a chemical imbalance in the brain by pharmaceutical commercials, the causes of depression are much more complex. In recent years, depression has been found to be caused by not only genetics, but by our own stress response, unhealthy thought processes and inflammation as well. Following is a list of five of the most common causes of depression found by recent research.
- Faulty brain wiring – Brain scans on depressed people have found lower activity in the frontal lobes (associated with higher processes such as critical thinking and problem solving) than in nondepressed people. In addition to higher levels of activity in the amygdala (which regulates fear), this imbalance in brain activity leads to an impediment in its ability to process emotions properly, which in turn leads to an inability to suppress negative emotional states.
- Brain atrophy – Depression has also been found to be associated with a loss of volume of certain regions in the brain, namely the hippocampus (which regulates emotions as well as the consolidation of memories) and the aforementioned frontal lobe. Whether a loss of hippocampal volume is caused by depression or vice versa, many studies have found its size to correspond to the severity of depressive symptoms. Some researchers believe that depression inhibits the birth of new brain cells in the hippocampus, suggesting that both lower brain volume and the disorder exacerbate each other in an unhealthy cycle.
- Hormonal imbalances – The endocrine system has been found to play a role in depression according to some studies, caused by an overactive hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. In other words, distressing thoughts stimulate the pituitary gland in the brain, prompting it to release stress hormones (namely cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine) associated with the fight-or-flight response; these hormones can create more anxiety and irritability that prolongs the depressive symptoms that are causing it. Chronic use of stress hormone releasing chemicals such as caffeine or negative thought patterns in general can make an overactive HPA system more likely.
- Brain inflammation – Some experts believe that all mood and anxiety-based disorders are caused by inflammation. Inflammation from gluten, sugar or alcohol have been associated with the aforementioned disorders, with depression being found in the majority (53 percent) of gluten-sensitive people.
- Genetics – There has been a litany of biomarkers that have been found to be associated with the development of depression and other mood disorders. Some studies have shown that almost half of all identical twins share depression, with 20 percent of fraternal twins both suffering from the disorder
Depression is more than simply being sad all the time. Even with the advancements in mental health in the last century, the pathology of mood disorders are still far from being completely understood. Perhaps in the future, a more comprehensive view of all the major factors will be identified and incorporated into a software program that can accurately predict and diagnose depression.
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