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Ask the Experts

Question:

What is going on in the brain of someone who is dysthymic?

Answered by: David Hellerstein

Depression has been shown to be a “brain-mind-body problem.” People with chronic depression are likely to have even greater abnormalities in their brain than people with only one or two brief episodes of depression.

In the state of depression, the body’s stress-response systems are revving nonstop. Hormones (like cortisol) stream through the body, preparing you for dangers which may never materialize. The effects of this long-term “activation of the stress response systems” are devastating for the brain and the body. The body responds by increasing adrenaline, by elevations in blood pressure, by increased blood levels of sugars and fats.

The brain responds by having its alarm systems in an “always-on” state. The amygdala, the brain’s panic system, actually grows in size! The hippocampus, the brain’s center of working memory, and the prefrontal cortex, the area of planning and reflection, actually wither and shrink! Chronic depression is toxic for your brain!

Dysthymia Disorder is also toxic for your body. Because of stress activation, people who are chronically depressed are at greater risk of heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, and many other medical problems, not just the psychiatric symptoms of depression.

Not to mention that they are likely to eat worse diets, to smoke more, to drink more alcohol, and to use more recreational drugs—all of which can make you feel better in the short run, but are obviously bad for health in the long run.