Researchers from the ENIGMA group gathered 9,000 individual samples for a study on depression in the journal of Molecular Psychiatry. The findings, which will play a role in the debate over where, how and why depression is prevalent amongst certain individuals yet not amongst others, shed a clear, definitive light on the matter. Moreso, it’ one that’s certainly worth understanding.
Using Magnetic Resonance Images (MRIs) the final sample proved a causal relationship between “persistent depression and brain damage”. In the most clear sense, the study “showed robust reductions in hippocampal volume (1.24%) in MDD patients compared with healthy controls.”
And what the flaming Jesus is hippocampus? Well, it’s the area of the brain located in the medial temporal lobe, and is comprised of two halves. Each of these parts reside on opposing hemispheres of the brain and, combined, the two are responsible for the “creation of new memories, the formation of long-term memory, and spatial navigation.”
On top of this, research proves the hippocampus plays a large role in controlling emotions. Co-author of the recent study, one Professor Ian Hickie, did a bang on job explaining the relationship between the hippocampus and its relationship to depression:
“Your whole sense of self depends on continuously understanding who you are in the world – your state of memory is not about just knowing how to do Sudoku or remembering your password – it’s the whole concept we hold of ourselves”
“We’ve seen in a lot of other animal experiments that when you shrink the hippocampus, you don’t just change memory, you change all sorts of other behaviors associated with that – so shrinkage is associated with a loss of function.”
Given that low self-esteem and lack of confidence often go hand in hand with depression and the management of daily lives, it’s a safe and apt assumption that sufferers also carry with them a deflated ego and sense of self-worth. The conclusion is that this has a potentiated effect on how one forms memories, for example, how they view themselves in the past and thus how they would (or will) project themselves in the future.
The ultimate tie-in between depression – a seemingly hopeless, pessimistic state of mind – and hippocampus – the area of the brain that controls the perceptions of both the past and the present – is that as one dwindles, the other is amplified. That is, poor health in the hippocampus regions of the brain can impact negatively on the perceived outcomes of life events, increasing the likelihood of depression and making it harder for the individual to see light in a dark world.
As Thought Catalog writes, “These statistics concerning hippocampus reduction are intriguing as one could argue that the reduction in the hippocampus parallels this change in thought pattern. Couldn’t it be harder for someone with even the slightest reduction to step out of this negative thought cycle without the full capacity of their brain?”
In the end, research like this is integral in making the wider public aware that depression is not a lifestyle, nor is it a choice. People suffering from the illness are not considered weak, and, should they wish to climb out of the hole they are in, it may not be possible to do so. Whether you view depression as a disorder or a disease, the fact is clear: it is a clear, diagnosable, sometimes incurable omen that deserves the attention of all.
Photo by Mary Lock.