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Brain Matters in Depression

Thought influences moods and it is known that genetics and environment are also risk factors to depression. Depression causes introspection and mood balancers such as serotonin drop as a result of emotional over arousal of negative thoughts and worries and reduced activity. This contributes to feelings of over tiredness and lack of motivation.

There is hope on the way with new studies of the human brain touting that the key is specifically the pre-frontal cortex an area of the brain that enables attention, decision making, social behaviour and working memory. Serotonin and Dopamine are the feel good chemicals and the amount individuals produce may be a product of genetics as the pre-frontal cortex has been found to be thinner in people with depression. This can impair or disrupt the functions of the pre-frontal cortex. What is not yet known is if this applies to all forms of depression and whether it creates depression or predisposes people to depression. While more research is needed there are ways to manage depression.

Working with people who are depressed I often find that when they undertake an activity, the depression lifts even if only temporarily. Professor Stephen Wilson, University College London states that brain asymmetry is essential for proper brain function. The two halves of the pre-frontal cortex have specific roles to play. The right brain that controls muscles on the left side of the body is the more creative and makes sense of language and visual imagery, is more broad and takes a more complex approach in the way it looks for associations, and in maths it performs rough estimations. The left brain is more specific and logical, it organises information and processes it in a systematic way, it retrieves facts and when it comes to maths it is quite precise.

We know that the pre-frontal cortex is involved in emotional responses and while the left half is associated in forming positive feelings, the right half initiates negative feelings. In those with depression the left pre-frontal cortex shows the greatest weakness with reduced brain matter. With children it has been found that those who are left brain weak are often more visual, spontaneous, emotional and intuitive while struggling with memorising facts and paying attention to detail. When healthy, the left pre-frontal cortex might help to inhibit negative emotions generated by the limbic structure such as the amygdalae which shows high activity in depressed people. Medication is often used to reduce the over-activity.

When needs are not being met, individuals spend time in negative introspection and at the same time stop engaging in practical problem solving. When a depressed person performs a task that requires attention and focus however, the left pre-frontal cortex has been found to often go back to normal levels of activity with the result that the mood improves. This highlights that specific action is required to rebalance the brain for well-being and health.

Walking, exercising, focusing on a task or a challenge, studying, working, undertaking a hobby or doing something creative that requires your full attention are all activities that will assist to manage depression.