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What Does Major Depression Do to the Brain?

Depression is more than just a mood disorder. It is a psychological condition that affects more than just the way you feel. Major depression, also known as clinical depression, can cause the chemical activity of your brain to change resulting in numerous different symptoms. So, how exactly does depression impact the brain? Keep reading to find out!

Causes of Depression

Clinical depression can be caused by anything from chemical and hormone imbalances to recurrent stress in everyday life. The causes of depression even can go down to the makeup of your genetics. No matter the cause, most individuals cannot control the onset of depression.

Signs of Depression

Depression is a vicious cycle. The symptoms generally affect the activities of daily living, which can increase the intensity of depression symptoms. Major depressive disorder (MDD) is diagnosed when patients show 5+ of the symptoms below on a daily basis for longer than two weeks.

  • Continuing feelings of sadness of hopelessness
  • Little to no interest in activities, even ones you previously liked
  • Lack of appetite
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Insomnia, oversleeping or lack of sleep
  • Feelings of restlessness
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Persistent feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Inability to think, concentrate or make decisions
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempt

Effects of Depression on the Brain

Thanks to advances in medical technology, researchers have been able to track down the exact areas of the brain that are impacted by severe depression, and in turn, the areas that affect depression. As a result, studies show that the three areas that are most affected are the hippocampus, the amygdala, and the prefrontal cortex.


Also known as the memory center, the hippocampus is responsible for producing your stress hormone, cortisol. Excessive release of cortisol, either from high-anxiety situations or from chemical imbalances, can cause neurons to shrink. This reaction can be linked to symptoms of major depression such as memory loss and troubles concentrating.


Your amygdala decides whether you feel pleasure or fear in result to situations. The excessive release of cortisol due to depression causes the amygdala to become hyperactive and enlarged. This results in the release of unnecessary chemicals and hormones, which cause further complications. Hyperactivity in the amygdala is also responsible for any disruptions in your sleep pattern.

Prefrontal Cortex

The prefrontal cortex has a lot of responsibilities, and they aren’t small. It regulates emotions, helps you make decisions, and assists in the formation of memories. When the hippocampus releases extra cortisol, the prefrontal cortex shrinks as a result. This shrinkage causes the inability to think, remember information, and/or causes issues with making decisions.

How to Help Symptoms of Depression

Although you really can’t control the onset of depression, or what it’s doing to your brain, there are things you can do to make it better. You can work with a psychologist, get on medication, or you can use neurofeedback to train your brain back to a healthier, happier state.

You don’t have to struggle through depression alone. 
Call our office today at (317) 288-9828 for a free consultation to see how our neurofeedback can help!