The brain has things happen within it and the brain has things happen to it. Every second of every day the brain is working tirelessly to perform thousands of functions. Synapses are firing and refiring, behaviors are being ingrained into our system, thousands of stimuli are coming in and being processed- the brain is absolutely remarkable. However, the brain is also incredibly vulnerable. Vulnerable to both physical and emotional impact, the brain can be injured. When we experience trauma, abuse, or mental illness, it changes our brain. We have memories that cannot be erased, we learn lessons that could take years to unlearn and learn differently. New studies show that mental illnesses like depression structurally change the brain on the inside.
Published in Scientific Reports, the study used a new form of imaging to map white matter in the brain. Talking about brain matter, we often talk about grey matter in the brain. For example, mindfulness and meditation are common practices proven to reduce the symptoms of depression and even help some people achieve remission from depression. Both mindfulness and meditation have been proven to increase grey matter in the brain, which is raw brain tissue upon which knowledge and information can be imprinted. White matter, on the other hand, is what connects one area of grey matter to the next area. Wiring together clusters of synapses and everything that lives in the grey matter of the brain, white matter is critical to brain function. Compromises in white matter can mean compromises in emotions, thinking, and other human functions. The study found that patients with depression had “alterations” in their white matter. Additionally, white matter in the brain of patients with depression did not have as high a quality compared to patients who did not have depression.
Brain imaging studies are essential for gaining a deeper understanding of complicated mental illness like depression. Mental illnesses are not just feelings. They are complex systems of brain reactions which take on a physical form. Ongoing research enlightens the treatment process while also validating many of the treatments already in place.
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