The goal of this website is to give support to people who are feeling depressed and unhappy with their lives. I am living in Europe and English is not my native language, I wish you will excuse me if I make some grammatical errors. I have a background in neuroscience and behavioral sciences and I am currently doing brain research in university in my home country. I decided to write in English because I wish to reach as many people as I can around the world.
Biological basis of the development of depression
It is fascinating to think about the way the brain works and to try to understand how everything we feel, everything we are is the result of the certain kind of activity pattern in the neuronal network in our brain. One does not have to be a scientist in order to explore the way the brain works. Everyone can be an observer, all one needs to do is to close one's eyes and start listening to oneself.
How is this information related to depression and most importantly, how can this help one to overcome depression? Understanding the nature of the problem is the first step in the recovery process. You have navigated to this page because you are not currently feeling perfectly happy with your life. You are trying to find information that explains why you feel the way you do and most importantly, how you can overcome your bad feeling and regain a comfortable, happy life.
Depression is ultimately the result of changes in the biochemical environment of one's brain. These biochemical changes eventually affect the organization of the neuronal networks. This reorganization of the neuronal networks is contributing to the development of depression. In order to understand the physiological basis of depression one must first understand how the brain works under normal circumstances.
The role of neurotransmitters
Neurons communicate with each other by transmitting chemical and electrical signals. For example, visual cortex gets activated as a consequence of the activation of the photoreceptor cells in the retina. Photoreceptor cells are activated when the rays of light are affecting the conformation of the molecules on the surfaces of the cells. The activity of the photoreceptor cells leads to activation of other cells and signal is delivered deeper into the brain via complex neuronal pathway. This electrical signal originating from cells of retina is eventually being delivered to the visual cortex, resulting in construction of three dimensional image of our surroundings.
There is not one straightforward uninterrupted route from retina to visual cortex that electrical signal can take. Rather there are numerous short strips of neuronal "wire" that can transmit electrical signal. Electrical signal has to be able to move ("jump") from one short neuronal "wire" to another. How does the electrical signal manage to do this if the neuronal "wires" are not physically connected to each other?
A neurotransmitter is a chemical substance, a "carrier" molecule that has the ability to transmit electrical signal from one neuron to another. There are various different kinds of neurotransmitters in the brain. One can understand the nature and role of a neurotransmitter by thinking of the following simple example. Let us consider two example neurons A and B. These neurons are not connected to each other physically, instead there is a vast "sea" of extracellular space between them. Extracellular space is of course not empty, however it is not possible for an electrical signal to pass through this space. This is where a neurotransmitter molecule enters the stage. A neurotransmitter is a biochemical substance that gets released from cell A when the cell is activated. Neurotransmitter is being released to the extracellular space between the cells. It travels across the void and reaches cell B on the other side of the "sea" and activates it, allowing the electrical signal to travel further on the membrane of cell B.
One main cause of depression is the reduction in the concentration of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, such as serotonin and dopamine. The decrease in the concentration of these key neurotransmitters leads to disturbed neuronal signal processing which in a long run leads to alterations in the structure of the neuronal networks. These structural changes are believed to be one of the main reasons for depression.
Antidepressants can help the brain to heal
Antidepressants are helping the brain to maintain higher levels of concentration of the crucial neurotransmitters, hence helping depressed brain to heal. If the depression has lasted long time and has turned chronic it is often necessary to help the brain to increase the concentration of the key neurotransmitters so that positive structural changes can occur. After this artificial "boost" the brain can continue to heal itself without external help.
Often it is sufficient to take antidepressants only for a short period of time in order to start the process of healing. It is important not to continue the treatment for too long to prevent the brain from becoming dependent on external regulation of certain neurotransmitters. However, one should always trust one's doctors advice regarding the length of the treatment period.
To read more, please see sections Depression - General and Depression - Science.