According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 264 million people in the world suffer from signs and symptoms of depression. It is the first cause of disability across the globe, with women more likely to be affected than men. Some studies also found that more people experienced depression and anxiety due to the COVID-19 crisis.
But even with the illness being so prevalent, we can’t deny that people who suffer still carry so much stigma around it and refuse to seek help. This is unfortunate because there are some long-term consequences for untreated depression. Here are some of them.
Studies found that those who experienced depression in their lives are at significant risk for developing dementia. There is a link between dementia and depression, and younger people who are going through depressive episodes need to go through some form of therapy to be able to address it as early as possible. We are lucky in that we live in a time when elderly patients can receive high-quality dementia care thanks to healthcare workers and experts who are devoting their lives to providing a life of dignity and honor to those who are in the twilight of their lives, but we need to do all that we can now, no matter how old we are, to protect our minds and sharpness as early as we can.
Recent research suggests that people who experience depression might find that some regions of their brains can decrease. These parts include:
- Hippocampus, which plays a major part in our memory and learning. It is also known for being vulnerable to damage through various stimuli.
- Prefrontal cortices, which are responsible for many of our complex cognitive behaviors, decision-making, expressions of personality, and moderating our social behavior.
- Thalamus, which functions to relay sensory and motor signals.
- The frontal lobe, which is known for the higher cognitive functions like impulse control, memory, social interaction, emotions, problem-solving, and motor function.
- Amygdala, where our emotions are remembered, provided meaning, and attached to certain associations, and are given responses. They are also known as emotional memories.
As you can see, these are the regions of the brain responsible for emotional responses and cues, and even how we deal with our relationships. This is why we cannot neglect our depressive symptoms—depression can truly mess with the filter through which we see the world, ourselves, and the people we love.
Aside from parts of our brain shrinking due to depression, our brains can also experience inflammation. This means that untreated depression can up our risks for reduced function of neurotransmitters, and reduced capacity for neuroplasticity, which is the ability of our brains to change and improve as time goes on. This inflammation can then lead to dysfunctions in the following:
- Brain development
Serious additional health issues
Because pain and depression share a lot of similar pathways in our neurological functions, people who experience depression can also experience a wide array of physical pains and discomforts like back pain, headaches, tummy aches, and joint and muscle pains. In fact, it’s quite possible for people to think they’re only suffering from chronic physical pain without ever knowing they actually have depression because not everyone has the tools to identify if their mental distress was caused by their physical pain or vice versa.
That is why it’s crucial for people who experience any sort of chronic pain to immediately see their doctors before it escalates. Aside from psychosomatic pain, untreated depression is also linked to poorer outcomes for coronary heart disease.
An important note
It is important to note that a risk factor does not mean a foregone conclusion. Just because you may be going through a season of depression now, it doesn’t mean that you will for sure have all of these diseases later on in life. Risk factors are just that—risks. This is why our healthcare system needs to prioritize mental health, spread awareness to people about how depression is a curable disease, and give people the tools and strategies they need to go into remission.
And while it may not always be the easiest and most natural thing in the world to reach out for help, it’s something that we need to have the courage to do so that we can live full and healthy lives with the people we love and who love us. If you’re experiencing chronic feelings of helplessness, loneliness, suicidal ideation, sleep disturbances, loss of interest in things you previously loved, and others, don’t hesitate to reach out to someone you trust and your primary care provider. You are worthy of help and healing.