Mental Health Blog

Untreated Depression Can Cause Irreversible Changes in the Brain

Depression is not something seen by the naked eye, it is psychological but can lead to physical effects in our body and brain.  Researchers have found that untreated depression leads to neurodegenerative levels of brain inflammation.

** Untreated: no intervention at all to prevent or reduce a condition from worsening**

Brain inflammation occurs in response to injury or illness. Inflammatory response serves as a protective mechanism from disease and helps with healing, but chronic inflammation of the brain is associated with degenerative conditions. Neurodegenerative diseases lead to a progressive loss of brain cells and exacerbate problems with memory, thinking, and mobility, common in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. In severe cases, they may lead to dementia. 

Research has found evidence of permanent changes in the brain due to chronic inflammation in people with untreated persistent clinical depressions (Setiawan et al. 2018). This study was one of the first to show biological evidence for lasting and progressive brain changes in persistent depression, it is not merely just an association between depression and increased inflammation. 

Don’t be discharged by these facts. I hope these facts and/or new knowledge serve to empower and encourage you to seek out treatment for those who are suffering from clinical depression wherever you are. Don’t be discouraged by these facts, Mental health is something very private, do it for yourself. Depression won’t wait for you so you can preserve other people’s worry about your condition, that is just a stigma around the unknown and the direct association with suicide. In reality, “Suicide is not selfish. Suicide is, normally, death caused by the illness of depression. It is the final symptom. A final collapse under the unbearable weight. Suicide is a tragedy. If you have never been close to the edge, try not to judge what you can’t understand.” – Matt Haig

Recovery from depression is possible but it’s not linear. Think of it as a condition that needs to be managed like diabetes or chronic pain as opposed to an illness that needs to be cured. 

There has also been research that shows changes in the brain due to major depressive disorders like grey matter volume loss/minimizing, inflammation can be minimized or even reversed with sufficient treatment. (Ahidan, 2011; Pittenger & Duman, 2008; Liu et al., 2017; Albert 2019). Our brains are unable to rewire themselves with their function, structure, and neuroplasticity (although neuroplasticity does decrease with age and depression may not be fully reversed along with the factor of how long the depression is untreated) 1 but it’s never too late to treat depression. What is important is to stay consistent and adhere to working on feeling better even on those days when it might be really hard for you to do so. Some days might be really good and some days might not be so great. Stay motivated to keep working on yourself. 

Note: The Free Your Mind Mental Health Society is an independent youth-led organization. The contents of this blog are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. In the event of a medical emergency, please call your doctor or 911 or other local emergency numbers immediately.