Effects of untreated depression

Depression does not only affect how we feel and act — it can affect the structure of the brain itself.

“Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide” according to the World Health Organization. More than 300 million people are affected by it, yet it is often undiagnosed and untreated.

Mental illnesses aren’t always preventable. They often arise from a person’s normal reaction to circumstances. But if sadness lasts more than two weeks, it might be considered more than simple sadness.

Depression can affect anyone no matter the age, gender or ethnic background and doesn’t have a single cause. According to Very Well Mind, depression could be the result from a complex interaction of social, psychological and biological factors such as brain chemistry, hormones, and genetics, as well as life experiences and physical health.

There are nine types of depressions in total. The first most common type of depression is Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). MDD is a mood disorder that affects your feelings, thinking and also behaviour, and it is usually severe enough to notice daily problems. Similar to most depressions, nearly everyday symptoms may include sadness, tearfulness, feeling hopelessness, anger, loss of interest or pleasure in most activities and relationships, having insomnia or sleeping too much, lack of energy, weight loss or weight gain, having anxiety, being slow and trouble concentrating as well as remembering things, suicidal thoughts and physical unexplained pains.

Depressed people might be very sad without knowing a reason why all the time, or described as having a gloomy personality and incapable of having fun. For some, especially with older people, children, men and patients with less severe depressive episodes, it can be hard to recognize. The stigma, poverty and shame might keep patients from getting help. Untreated depression rarely gets better by itself, yet it often gets worse by increasing the rates of drug and alcohol addiction and further health complications.

Long term depression, if left untreated, can physically change the brain. Psychology Today describes a study that has found that depression can lead to inflammation in the brain which looks similar to the kind of inflammation found and in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s patients. Other studies have shown that depression can lead to a shrinking of certain regions of the brain, or a restriction of oxygen.

Fortunately, the changes are not all permanent. For example, the shrinkage is reversible once the depression is treated and cortisol and other brain chemicals return to a balanced state,

To minimize the damage depression causes, we must get proper treatment on time. That could be from therapy, exercise, antidepressants, or all of the above. If we reduce the stigma associated with depression, people will be more likely to get the help they need.As the Mayo Clinic writes, untreated, depression will result in “emotional, behavioral and health problems that affect every area of your life.”

Image: Shutterstock

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