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How long-term depression alters the brain

By Maria Cohut
Fact checked by Jasmin Collier

Depression has become a common mental health problem. For some, this condition lingers for many years, and scientists now strive to understand how that might affect the brain, and how treatments should be adjusted to address these changes.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), across the United States, 8.1 percent of people over the age of 20 have depression over any given 2-week period.

For some people, depression might only be episodic and overcome within a matter of weeks or months. However, for others diagnosed with major depression, the condition could persist for years, affecting their lifestyle and quality of life.

Looking at cases in which major depression lasts for over a decade, researchers from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Ontario, Canada wanted to investigate whether living with this condition for so long would significantly impact the brain, and if so, how.

Dr. Jeff Meyer, from the CAMH, led a study focusing on that question. He and his team compared the brain scans of people who had lived with untreated depression for 10 years or longer with those of people with a shorter history of depression.

The findings — published last week in The Lancet Psychiatry — suggest that specialists might want to change their approach to treating long-term depression as it progresses to match its increasing neurological impact.

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