Is it just your moods or more going on in your brains?

Today is 15th Sept 2020 and it marks the 50% of our neuro series completion. So far we talked about how our brains works and all the goodness associated with it. We talked about creativity, mindfulness, empathy, change, learning, cognitive fitness and more. We kind of talked touched upon all the good stuff. It is human not to understand how good is good till we know how bad can bad get.

As someone who is obsessed with depth, I always search for some big lines and small lines to compare and contrast to help understand things better and deeper. Brain is no different.

When you know what a small lack of some neurotransmitters or neurons or damage can do to you, you will start appreciating what a wonder machine your brain is. The idea is not to scare you but to make you understand the value of your brain. My only advice and request is please don’t take your mental wellness lightly.

Only through mental illness, if you will appreciate mental wellness, here is a mini series within this neuro series dedicated to make you feel grateful for your meat machine. Let’s get started with the the most common mental disorder, depression.

Globally, more than 264 million people of all ages suffer from depression. Depression is a leading cause of disability worldwide and is a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease (WHO reports). There is no lab test for this illness.

The person usually exhibits a low mood, which pervades all aspects of life, and an inability to experience pleasure in previously enjoyable activities. Depressed people may be preoccupied with—or ruminate over—thoughts and feelings of worthlessness, inappropriate guilt or regret, helplessness or hopelessness. The symptoms of depression also include poor concentration and memory, withdrawal from social situations and activities, reduced sex drive, irritability, and thoughts of death or suicide. - Wikipedia

Personally, I have been through a really bad one, that lasted for four years when i was 20-24 years of age. The experience of accepting the illness, going through medication, meeting a psychiatrist, handling taboo in the family and society, not understanding what to do, guilt of being a burden to everyone around you, yada yada yada is hard and I get it more than anyone as I have completed one full circle to understand this illness deeply. Emotions are a critical part of the human experience. It is more than feeling sad. Sometimes it gets out of hands.

I have also cared for many friends who went through (and are going) through serious depressions. It is time we talk about it from a brain’s perspective. The best way to look at depression is it is an invisible wound (it is a wound nevertheless).

Depression is a neurological condition that affects normal life. It takes many forms but has the same symptoms just varied in severity and length. Sadness, feeling empty, worthless, hopeless, fatigue, mood swings, irritability and even thoughts of suicide.

If this continues for more than 2 weeks we call it as MDD. If this continues for more than 2 years than it is persistent depressive disorder (PDD). Even seasonal depressions (aka winter blues) is possible due to lack of sunlight. Science shows that there is a BIG genetic component to it. So check around. Environmental conditions also cause it (finance, losing loved one, abuse etc). It feels like normal sadness so we brush it away but it is a complex conundrum and scientists are still figuring out exactly what is happening in our brains and bodies.

There are four theories going on with depression

  1. Reduction of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin is causing it (chemical imbalance as a cause). No wonder there is no pleasure or reward feelings in the brain. From a genetics point of view, there is an argument that a receptor that codes for serotonin receptor 5 HTT is not signalling enough. SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) do work. These medications are solely working on serotonin and dopamine at the synapse and hence enhancing signalling throughout the brain.

  2. fMRI studies have shown that patients with depression have reduced GREY (neuronal cell, dendrites, synapses and glia) matter in their brain. So no wonder signalling is reduced with the volume reduction and the areas needed for emotions and decision making is screwed. This is another argument for depression. The argument is more structural than a chemical one.

  3. Some scientists argue that neuroplasticity reduction reduces neurogenesis (growth of new brain cells) and that causes depression. Chronic stress could cause this. Taking antidepressant reverses this condition by supplying BDNF (chemical) for neurogenesis. This argument is more around genesis.

  4. The recent studies are showing that depression could be a response to a reduction in immune system. Unusual levels of cytokines are found in these patients and may be that is why they feel so sick. May be this is what we are going through in Covid times. No sunlight and reduced immune system functions is causing it 🥺

These are various arguments in the science community. I am not saying we have all the help needed but we do have some help that is needed. So when things are worse and it is beyond your willpower please take help. This too is self care.

Here is one quote that just brought me out of all stupidities of my life a few years ago. I felt something physically changed inside me when I internalised what this quote really meant.

Like all living beings, this “one” (you) also needs love and compassion from you. Give. - The Budda

This is the day I started living in a self care mode. I am not talking selfless or selfish here. It is just self care. We will discuss strategies tomorrow.

🥂to mental wellness!

Yo! Thanks for reading. Means a lot to me as attention is the hardest currency 🙏

If someone in your circle will benefit from this series, please pass them the details and ask them to subscribe here

If you would like to connect with the human behind the series, you can find me on Twitter and LinkedIn