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What New Brain Science Tells Us About Depression

The more we learn about depression from a scientific approach, the more encouraging the possibilities for innovative treatments.

The latest in brain science shows that people with a history of depression have smaller hippocampus than those who have no such history. As noted by WebMD, this is notable because:

“A smaller hippocampus has fewer serotonin receptors. Serotonin is a calming brain chemical known as a neurotransmitter that allows communication between nerves in the brain and the body. It’s also thought that the neurotransmitter norepinephrine may be involved in depression.”

It remains to be seen why the hippocampus is smaller, and what purpose this knowledge could serve in depression treatment. However, any scientific understanding of depression can, at the very least, provide some level of comfort to those for whom their depression seems to have no source.

In fact, developing a medical understanding of depression is often one of the keys to successful treatment. The more people understand about how depression is tied to brain activity beyond a person’s control, the less shame and guilt they may feel about their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and the more likely they are to respect and follow through with treatment. This is one of many benefits Dr. Daniel Amen notes about SPECT scans, or Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography. In his SPECT imaging research, Dr. Amen has been able to identify 7 types of anxiety and depression:

– pure anxiety
– pure depression
– mixed anxiety and depression
– over-focused anxiety and depression
– temporal-lobe anxiety and depression
– cyclic anxiety and depression
– “lights are low” anxiety and depression

This is not to suggest that all brain images indicating these types of depression look the same as the next. On the contrary, depression looks as different in each individual brain as it feels in each individual person.

Specifically, these SPECT images are able to identify three areas of activity in the brain – areas that are working well, areas of low activity, and areas of high activity. It’s based on these images that doctors can more accurately prescribe treatment. For instance, if the SPECT scan reveals low activity, the last thing needed is a prescription anti-depressant that lowers brain activity. Yet, that is precisely what happens in countless cases, meaning people are being needlessly treated with medications that are only compounding the problem.

This post is excerpted from Turning Your Down Into Up: A Realistic Plan for Healing from Depression by Dr. Gregory Jantz.

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