"Snap out of it!"

"You have no reason to be depressed."

"We don't talk about those things to other people."

Those were the mantras of my life before I finally chose to visit a psychiatrist on my own as an adult. It's still hard for the family to understand and accept, but now I have help. I take medicine daily to fight depression; and while I'm not exactly "perky," I don't dwell on my despair daily any more. But I still have those phrases rolling around in the back of my mind telling me it's my fault that I don't feel good. That I could just decide to feel different and I would. That somehow it's my own failure to be happy that's the problem.

I just finished watching the PBS program "This Emotional Life" on Iowa Public Television. The series is taking a look at our emotions and how they impact our lives. Each episode deals with several emotions such as fear, anxiety, and depression. One of the sections of this episode studied depression and brain traits of people who are depressed.

I have bi-polar disorder. My disease moves my emotions from high to low. Everyone who is diagnosed with bi-polar experiences the highs and lows in different degrees. My degree of depression outweighs the highs many times over. Even when I am "high" I feel depressed. When I am low and depressed, I'm almost immobile. So the studies discussed in this episode are of particular interest to me.

Scientists have been studying the physiology of the brain to see if brains of depressed people show similarities. The big thing they discovered is that the hippocampus in people who are depressed is smaller than that of people not depressed. Also, the longer a person is depressed, the small the hippocampus gets.

The hippocampus is located in the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that forms memories. And memories that we create when we are experiencing high levels of emotions--any emotions--are more distinct than those we experience during times of neutral emotional states. When the hippocampus is smaller, it is harder to create new memories and our emotions are lower. When depressed, I have no desire to create more experiences.

Now the good news!

Anti-depressants allow the hippocampus to re-enlarge. Measuring the hippocampus in people who were depressed before and after using anti-depressants showed an enlargement of the hippocampus. The people felt less depressed and the anatomy of their brains matched their moods.

So not only was I relieved to know that my depression is not my fault, but it is a real physical brain disease. And I can be fixed. Anti-depressants can make my brain anatomy return to a more normal state. So: My Brain Needs Drugs!

Reference Links:

Memory, Learning, and Emotion
Brain Anatomy