A global study discovers that the more depressive episodes one has, the more likely the hippocampus is to reduce in size.
The hippocampus is a brain’s area that is responsible for emotion and memory. However, when people experience chronic and badly treated depression it can result in a shrink in the hippocampus.
These findings raised the awareness These findings raised the awareness of how important it is to treat depression early on, especially in teenagers and young adults.
15 institutes from all around the world (including Europe, US, and Australia) collaborated together on a research and they examined the brain MRI data of about 9.000 people, 1,800 of whom were struggling with major depression, and the rest were healthy.
The researchers discovered that 65% of the participants with depression had recurrent episodes of depression and these people had a smaller hippocampus (a part of the brain near its center which is responsible for forming memories and connecting emotions to them).
The researchers from the University of Sidney said that the participants in the study which were experiencing their first depressive episode had a normal-sized hippocampus. However, the more depressive episodes a person had, the bigger the reduction in the hippocampus size.
“So recurrent or persistent depression does more harm to the hippocampus the more you leave it untreated. This largely settles the question of what comes first: the smaller hippocampus or the depression? The damage to the brain comes from recurrent illness,” said Professor Ian Hickie, a co-director of the study.
He also pointed out how important it is to identify and treat the depression effectively when it first happens to prevent the damage in the hippocampus, specifically among teenagers and young adults.
Luckily, the damage is reversible.
“Other studies have demonstrated reversibility, and the hippocampus is one of the unique areas of the brain that rapidly generates new connections between cells, and what are lost here are connections between cells rather than the cells themselves,” Hickie said.
And by treating depression effectively, he does not mean only medicines. For instance, if you are unemployed, sitting in a room and doing nothing can reduce your hippocampus. So, social situations are crucial for you.
Hickie also added that those patients who were taking antidepressants had a larger hippocampus. He said that people are wrong thinking that antidepressants have a bad effect on the health of a person. Contrary, they can have a protective effect.
“But that doesn’t mean they are the only treatment. There are, in fact, a broad range of treatments that should be explored, and in young people, psychotherapy would often be explored as the first line of treatment, not medicines,” he concludes.