Effects of Depression on the Brain

Rumination occurs when an individual thinks about a problem repeatedly, with too much self-reflection and without coming to a solution. A recent study from the University of Illinois at Chicago plainly reveals the startling effects of rumination on the brain, a risk factor of depression and reoccurring depression.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was used to examine network connections in the brains of young adults between the ages of 18 and 23, while they were in a resting state. Participants were required to be medication free for a period of 30 days prior to the scan. Among the participants, 30 had previously experienced depression though they were currently not medicated, while 23 were healthy controls who had never experienced depression.

Researchers from UIC wanted to see if the individuals who have had depression during their adolescence were different from their healthy peers. They also looked at cognitive control, or the ability to engage and disengage in thought processes or behaviors, a predictor of response to treatment and a forecaster of depression relapse.

Results showed many brain regions were hyper-connected among the participants who had a history of depression and these hyper-connected networks were related to rumination and sustained attention. Given these cognitive markers are known predictors of treatment response and relapse, hyper-connectivity may increase relapse risk or represent compensatory mechanisms. When regions of the brain are hyper-connected, they are talking or communicating to each other more than normal. This can result in poor treatment response or depression relapse.

Dr. Scott Langenecker, associate professor of psychiatry and psychology at UIC claims,

“As rumination goes up, cognitive control goes down. Rumination is not a very healthy way of processing emotion.”

When interpreted in light of the strengths of the current sample, the results show that connectivity differences may represent both protective and trait-based risk factors for relapse into depression. Furthermore, the facts provide evidence that brain-based traits associated with depression can be observed early, opening the possibility of depression prevention therapy.

Although reflection can be very positive, constantly dwelling on the past can result in depression. Balance is necessary for maintaining mental health.