New study confirms that depression is associated with changes in the brain.

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 This emerges from a new study published in the journal Scientific Reports.


Depression is the world's leading cause of disability

The background for the study is that depression is the most important cause of disability in the world, and that as many as 20% of adults can be affected by depression in life.

The researchers say:

There is an urgent need to offer treatment for depression, and a better understanding of the mechanisms of depression gives us opportunities to develop new and more effective treatment methods.  

 In the study, over 8000 people were examined with a specific method for brain scanning.  


Confirms brain changes in depressed people

In the preparatory work for the study, the researchers reviewed existing research related to brain changes in depression, and they point out that the most consistent findings so far are that people with depression have somewhat reduced gray brain matter in the hippocampus, and a reduced integrity in white brain matter over several parts of the brain.

The problem with these previous findings is that they have been produced using different brain imaging techniques and that different studies provide inconsistent answers. 

What was novel in this study was that they had many participants and that they used one particular technique to simultaneously look for brain changes in the gray and white brain matter.

The findings were that depression is associated with changes in the brain - but in the study it was only found that such changes were present in the white brain matter.


Effective treatment can produce positive brain changes

Several previous studies have also looked at how depression treatment can bring about positive changes in the brain in the depressed patients.

An important lesson from such studies is that it is wrong to maintain that psychological treatment is only suitable for "psychological" problems, while medication must be given for "biological" problems. The distinction between the psyche and biology is however not that simple.

An article in the Psychiatry Times writes about this:

In recent decades, it has become clear that mental processes occur based on the brain. This means that any change in our psychological processes manifests itself through changes in the function or structure of the brain.

In other words, the above study confirmed differences in the brains of the depressed compared to people without depression. However, the study does not explicitly explain how these differences in the brain are to be understood or how the findings can be used to improve depression treatment.