Is depression something you can control?
Or are there actual changes in the brain that cause it that are beyond our control?
Research studies show that when someone is depressed, we can see many changes in the brain.
Of course, the brain is a super complex organ, and science is still only scratching the surface of everything there is to know about it. People who have depression can have different symptoms, different causes, and different factors that contribute to their symptoms.
It’s important to know that even though we don’t understand everything about the causes of depression, we do know something about what treatments can help. And if one treatment doesn’t work for you, there may be another one that will, so don’t give up trying to find help! You and your body and mind are very special and unique—so something that worked or didn’t work for someone else will probably work differently for you.
Depression probably has a combination of different causes:
- Gene-environment interactions: Your brain and your genes can change based on what you are exposed to in your environment. Changes in genes based on environmental changes are called “epigenetics,” and they prove that, as we’ve written in a previous blog, our genes are not set in stone. And we can see big differences among people in their emotional/psychological responses to environmental factors. For example, some people’s anxiety skyrockets if they wreck their cars, while other people don’t have that response.
- Endocrine system, otherwise known as hormones: Some people’s moods fluctuate with changes in their hormone levels. Hormones are neurotransmitters that help different parts of your body communicate with each other. An example of fluctuating hormones is premenstrual syndrome (PMS)—some girls’ moods change with hormonal changes, and others’ don’t.
- Immune system: Stress and depression can cause your immune system—the part of your body that fights infections—to get weaker. And vice versa: some chronic illnesses can increase depressive feelings.
- Neuroplasticity: Scientists talk about the brain being “plastic,” meaning the connections between neurons can change over time. In previous eras, we thought the brain’s electrical system was hard-wired. Now we know that its wiring can change based on genetics, environment, hormones, the immune system, and and medical and psychological treatments.
All of this means there are ways to get better!!