Can Depression Cause Brain Damage?

There has always been a correlation between brain damage, as a result of a brain injury, and later onset depression or depression symptoms. But what if the reverse was true – what if recurring depression actually did physical damage to structures of the brain?

Size Matters When it Comes to Your Hippocampus

In a study published in Molecular Psychiatry, researchers have found that when people encounter repeated bouts of depression, their hippocampus shows clear, physical shrinkage. The hippocampus, which is the part of the brain responsible for forming memories, also helps in developing healthy emotional behaviors.

Researchers began looking at the hippocampus because there was speculation as to whether a smaller hippocampus would lead to depression symptoms.

At the Brain and Mind Research Institute, researcher Ian Hickey built and cross-referenced a 9,000-person brain scan library. When comparing the healthy control brains to those that had experienced regular episodes of depression, he could reasonably conclude that depression actually does tangible, physical damage to the brain.

Further, when the subjects had started experiencing depression before the age of 21, their physical changes were most obvious.

Depression May Cause the Hippocampus to Shrink 10 Percent

Your hippocampus is a part of your limbic system, the area of your brain that houses all of the emotional aspects of your life. It dictates how we see ourselves and our understanding of us in the world. On average, researchers found that the hippocampus shrunk up to 10 percent when someone experienced repeated episodes of depression.

In other animals, shrinkage in the hippocampus also changes other behaviors as well. Symptoms of a shrunken hippocampus include trouble concentrating and memory problems.

This begs the question, though, which comes first? The shrunken hippocampus or the depression?

Neuroplasticity – How Your Brain Can Reverse the Damage

Regardless of how depression starts, you’re not stuck with the brain you have; you can change your brain, and your hippocampus. Studies at the Centre for Psychiatric Research in Stockholm have followed depressed people for 10 years in one study, and results show that negative effects on the hippocampus from chronic depression can be reversed.

The right, individualized treatment can reverse those effects, especially given that the hippocampus is one of the most regenerative areas.

This ability, to repair and create new nerves – neurogenesis and neuroplasticity – proves that you can change your brain and reverse the shrunken hippocampus and keep the reoccurring depressive episodes from happening. In animal trials, neurogenesis is paramount to making depressed brains healthy again, and through various trials, antidepressant treatments seem to effectively start or encourage the process.

One thing that researchers are trying to figure out next: Can antidepressants help chronic depression because of the way serotonin in the brain is affected, or because of the way it encourages new nerve cells to form? Or both?

The sooner that depression is treated, the less damage done is to the hippocampus. Though antidepressants have showed to help, researcher Ian Hickey and Amen Clinic founder, Dr. Daniel Amen, encourage the regenerative process in brain cells. The Amen Clinics Method encourages using the least toxic methods to treat conditions like depression, and to increase neuroplasticity.

If you or a loved one have experienced recurring episodes of depression, don’t wait. Amen Clinics patients have a better quality of life after just six months, 85 percent of the time. Don’t you deserve to live happy and healthy? Call us today at 888-288-9834 or visit our website to schedule an appointment.


  1. I have received the Amen emails and links for over a year and feel confident that the services & programs offered would be of tremendous help to me and my children

    I have been challenged with adhd. PTSD and severe bouts of depression for years – I have had a meningioma, craniotomy, regrowrh and the radiation therapy.

    Depression runs In the family. As does high IQ and high sensitivity issues. My mother took her own life and the combination of severe depression and high IQ with ultra sensitivity to all emotions and empathic reactions and absorption from others.

    I experience the same and With the meningioma, craniotomy, regrowth, radiation therapy for 8 weeks- leading to full hearing loss on left side and other symptoms of dizziness/confusion.

    I’m a single parent of two teen boys, lost job recently and used to be successful/competent lawyer & mom.

    The cuttting edge research and programs and regeneration. /rehabilitative opportunities the Amen clinics offer is what would make a world of difference and perhaps a breakthrough and/it reversal of the continued familial pattern of deep depression -lack of knowledge, resources causing despair and irrevocable actions that further compound the basic deep depression. That inevitably gets passed down.

    Are there any grants/aid or scholarships for someone who can’t afford the clinic but needs to make a drastic change/recovery/rewording/retraining to stop the cycle.

    Comment by Lisa — March 5, 2018 @ 2:57 AM

  2. The findings noted in this article correlate directly with my personal experience. As far back into my childhood as I can remember, I was severely depressed. As an adult, it was pulling me under to the point that I gave up trying to fight it, feeling like a person condemned to die being led, chained hand & foot to the gallows. Then, in my early 40’s, someone gave me Dr. Amen’s book about changing your life by changing your brain – something my life history taught me was not possible. From this book, I went to Tana Amen’s Omni Diet lifestyle. In less than one year after the combination of diet change & more disciplined thoughts, the depression that was slowly killing me for more than 30 years was gone without ever taking a single drug. There are no words to express my gratitude – how do you thank someone for saving your life?

    Comment by Fred Hubler — March 5, 2018 @ 2:58 AM

  3. To who it may concern can Amen Clinics free phamplet through the mail about how Amen Cinics treat Sleep Apnea.

    Comment by Arnold Cabral — March 5, 2018 @ 4:05 AM

  4. I am interested to know when the Chicago area clinic, Bannockburn Location, will become staffed to offer in house procedures. Currently, there are not dedicated staff for neuro-feedback and other treatments which would be of interest. Chicago is a very large geographical area with no type of support in one place. Amen appears to offer this but has opened a clinic which is not staffed and equipped.

    Can someone from corporate please contact me. I only get call center operators and I need to speak to someone technical who can explain this strategy.

    Gina Repko

    Comment by Gina Repko — March 5, 2018 @ 7:35 AM

  5. Hello Gina, thank you for reaching out to us regarding our Chicago clinic and how we can better serve the needs of the community. We will pass along your information and have someone reach out to you.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — March 5, 2018 @ 8:49 AM

  6. Hello Arnold, we will have a Care Coordinator reach out to you with further information. Thank you for reaching out!

    Comment by Amen Clinics — March 5, 2018 @ 9:00 AM

  7. Hello Lisa, thank you for reaching out and sharing with us. We will have a Care Coordinator reach out to you with additional information regarding possible treatments, as well as insurance, reimbursement and financing.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — March 5, 2018 @ 9:07 AM

  8. I am very interested in Dr. Amen and his philosophy in regard to brain health. I have suffered with chronic depression most of my life and at times it has been quite severe. My current psychiatrist recently informed me that he felt that antidepressants are not working for me and is recommending ECT. Well just the thought of it scares me to death and is not something I choose to do. I live in Tulsa, OK, not really close to any of Dr. Amens’ clinics. Is there help for me? Thank you!

    Comment by Antonia Nozicka — March 5, 2018 @ 4:41 PM

  9. Thanks Lisa for posting your comments, I had a craniotomy when I was 18months old. I have severe depression and my family thinks that I am bi-polar because of the highs and lows that I go thru, even though the psychiatrists doesn’t think that I am. I was wondering if you have trouble sleeping. I can stay awake for 30 hrs. I went to bed at 1:30 pm Sunday and did not get out of bed until Monday at midnite. RSVP Thanks

    Comment by Hi Diane , I can totally relate to your insomnia. There is a pattern going on where I will sleep too much on Saturday and then I can't sleep at nite, like today. This happens 3 to 4 days a week and I can't get a job unless it falls on the days — March 5, 2018 @ 11:22 PM

  10. Please help. I have treatment-resistant depression due to major depressive disorder, also known as clinical depression.. I have tried numerous antidepressants, DBT, talk therapy, I was going to try ECT but was dissuaded by my therapist. I’ve been hospitalized four times and that have had two suicidal attempts. I have tried several alternative treatments that I have found on the internet including CBD oil taken orally, but nothing helps. I see where there are clinical trials for other treatments. My father also committed suicide, so I may be more genetically prone to this.
    I had a nervous breakdown about 8 years ago after several tragic events in my life. I couldn’t cope. The terrifying sense of total darkness and helplessness weighs down on me everyday, it’s engulfing me, I’m suffocating in plain sight. The want and urge to die makes daily living an absolute nightmare. Nobody wants to die, but it seems like it’s the only recourse many of us have because nothing helps and living this way is unbearable. PLEASE, any clinical trials or alternative methods, anything, I would be more than willing to try. I am living a nightmare!

    Comment by Robin — May 1, 2018 @ 11:43 AM

  11. Dear All,
    I have read your comments about your debilitating depression and my heart goes out to you.
    This malady is the much ignored & stigmatized killer of spirit ( enthusiasm, positivity, life energy) mind, ( thinking, monkey mind) well being! ( balance, peace, effective functioning & self care, community & relationships).
    I suffer, too.
    It is a cruel reality that treatments , such as Amen offers, are not feasible to us due to the high cost and limited locations.
    I don’t know what the answer is to this cruel dilemma of lack of health care for brain maladies.
    If one has cancer, or any number of other maladies, there is much health care, support and caring from countless sources and there is no stigma.
    Life truly is not fair…. In so very many ways….there is no real working justice in this realm brain illness.
    We are often the brightest, most aware & empathetic people…. yet we can careful function consistently because of our malady.
    I’ve heard of and met scores of people in my life w all sorts of physical disabilities and chronic diseases who DO NOT have mood disorders, depression, brain maladies. They would not trade their physical disabilities for our maladies.
    I salute all of us and I envision a world that cares for us, effectively.
    I am not religious per se; that said, I want you to know that I hold you in my thoughts and heart with the hope of redemption for us and include all of you in my prayers and meditations.
    I’m so sorry we can’t afford the financial cost for the care & treatments we deserve and need.
    There are injustices in life.
    I am experiencing my life energy slipping away….year by year…. a shadow of my former self …..
    Due to an unresolved, isolating , depleting and stigmatizing malady.
    You are not alone.
    I empathize and align myself with our common struggle and suffering.
    I envision all of us connected and supporting one another…. with comfort and caring.
    Peace, Patricia

    Comment by Patricia — September 21, 2018 @ 2:58 AM

  12. I feel that this clinic has many great answers and I know relatives who have used the services. We have not used these clinics but are very interested.

    I have to tell you that my daughter with severe depression has been getting Ketamine infusions for the past few years and she has had great success with it. It is known to help decrease depression and suicidal ideation. I highly recommend you look into it.

    Comment by Sharon English — September 21, 2018 @ 12:32 PM

  13. There is a probability – some ,like Dr Peter Breggin, will say a certainty – that the shrinkage of parts of the brain is caused by the antidepressants. The ‘researchers’ in this study did not check that possibility ? If so, what a useless study and a missed opportunity, i even would call it a criminal attitude because the negative effects of the antidepressants are again and again put aside on purpose. I suppose that Big Pharma did not want them to look at this aspect and the researchers listened to their boss ?

    I would like to know how many patients (in %) are helped by Dr Amen by means of prescribed antidepressants ?

    Sincere greetings !

    Comment by Geelen Hubert — September 21, 2018 @ 7:05 PM

  14. Dr. Michael Lacey, Johnson Ferry Road, Atlanta is my sleep doctor….he is great to work with concerning sleep apnea. And he takes insurance. Call him, tell him, Connie Hober sent you!!!

    Comment by Connie Hober — September 21, 2018 @ 7:58 PM

  15. While you are waiting Lisa, tune in to Andrew Womack at AWMI ministries and begin learning how a fully persuaded belief in Jesus and his healing can change your life forever. I have now been to Amen clinic and I am glad I did.
    Andrews teachings include -you already have it, god wants you well and many more. Amen refers to ANTS-automatic negative thinking. It helps to know that you are loved by god and that doesn’t change. You can’t make him love you more and you can’t make him love you less. He is not ashamed of you or your past actions. start killing the ants and begin speaking only what god says about you even if you aren’t convinced that they are true yet.” I am wonderful, I am healed, I am precious and holy, I have the mind of Christ, my brain performs to perfection and was designed perfectly for the purpose of which I was given, great things are in store for me, I am blessed and rich with his blessings. For the depression-have intention laughing sessions-laugh outloud on purpose until you get to a point that you truly begin to laugh at yourself laughing. It’s fun and the minute you truly begin laughing you can choose to laugh longer or stop because the curse of sadness is broken at least for a time in that moment. God bless you and good luck with both Amen Clinics and use of the tools stated above.
    Lisa, your thoughts and your words are guiding you, begin to say good things about yourself and your life now.

    Comment by Ed — September 22, 2018 @ 4:16 AM

  16. This article is intriguing – I wonder if they cross checked something because for me the drugs caused me to lose my memory and my ability to write down new memory and my emotional behaviours were affected – they were out of control and off the scale.
    I live in Australia – arrived in 2001 from NZ. In 2004 I was very stressed, it had been a big year of travel, job changing and surgery and I went to see a GP in the July – unbeknown to me GPs in Australia have a passion for writing prescriptions for Antidepressants – to treat anything and everything – the Dr I saw – in a 10 minute consult, with no blood testing gave me antidepressants and despite repeatedly telling her over the next 9 months that they weren’t helping she told me to just continue (Yes I should have found a new Dr but I was stressed and the drugs were making it worse not better) – the problem with poor training In Australia Medical schools. After 9 months she added Lithium – wrote the prescription on Tuesday and went on maternity leave on Friday – talk about negligent. Over the next 6 years other Drs just blindly continued to prescribe the antidepressant and the lithium without any checking.
    If these drugs work to help depression then why did I lose my memory and my ability to write down new memory and why were my emotional behaviours so negatively affected
    When I finally got off them the next stupid Dr put me on anti anxiety (still no blood testing or proper assessment) – After 18 months of them I cold turkeyed the whole lot – took Vit B12 and Vit D and ate well and after about 3 years my memory came back and it recovers more and more – its now 5 years – and there are still a few functions missing.
    So it would be interesting to find and study a group of people misdiagnosed and mistreated with Antidepressant – huge population of these to be found in Australia – and see what has happened to there memory – I would suggest it is not the depression but such things as Vitamin B (especially B12 ) & Vit D deficiency – things that don’t get properly testedfor
    Recently I’ve trained as an RTT therapist – Rapid Transformational Therapy which uses regression with Hypnotherapy to heal and that is making a great difference to my mood, thoughts and general well-being something the drugs had a negative impact on. So today I stay clear of GPs

    Comment by Julia — September 22, 2018 @ 5:33 AM

  17. Not sure if I have depression but would say I am not a happy person. I have been having seizures and the MRI’s show something with my hippocampus. I take 60mg of Prozac a day in addition to anti seizure meds. I am tired of taking of taking all the meds. My whole life I have considered how to kill myself but have never acted on those feelings. I find my confusion is worse and I have recently lost my job because in my state you can not drive if you have seizures but no dr will say I cant work so getting benefits is difficult as they say I am not disabled just because the state says I cant drive. I find I get tired mid day and can sometimes sleep till 4-5 in the afternoon. I would love for a pill to make me feel better but I don’t think one exists, or to run away from my life. but I have no income so that’s not likely to happen. I forget things often and get headaches often. Not sure what the Amen Clinics can offer me or if I can afford it,

    Comment by Taylor — September 22, 2018 @ 6:15 AM

  18. Hi Patricia, I hear u loud @ clear. I too have had depression for a lifetime & now as a Senior still struggle. I can’t afford Amen Clinic either but wish I could. Recently I asked my Dr to cut my antidep in half & am doing alot better except I can’t sleep real well. I also take a statin & antihypertensive, & feel they make my depression & memory worse. I have adhd. It’s hard to know what causes what. Prayers for ur recovery.

    Comment by Jan — September 22, 2018 @ 5:48 PM

  19. Hey Robin. Just wondering if you are doing any better? I can relate to much of what you wrote. Treatment resistant depression is pure hell. Hope you are doing better. Wishing you the best.

    Comment by todd — September 23, 2018 @ 11:42 PM

  20. The idea that anti-depressants cause brain shrinkage has been debunked, again and again. There’s no scientific evidence to support such a claim.

    Comment by Vivian — October 4, 2018 @ 4:28 PM

  21. If you’re exhausted but can’t sleep well pantothenic acid may help.

    Comment by Kathryn — October 18, 2018 @ 7:17 PM

  22. Vivian: where, when, by whom & how were the debunking studies done?

    Comment by Kathryn — October 18, 2018 @ 7:29 PM

  23. Depression is so fixable and there is hope for every one of us. Dr Amen’s program has some of the answers. I read some of his information and it helped me.Dr. Neil Nedley’s program at Weimar, California also has some answers. He has an approach that uses many natural methods plus some medicines to give people a jump start to recovery. I went to his 10 day live in program and it changed my life. I got off my meds that I had used for 6 year s and it is now 16+ years and no depression. Also, Dr. Michael Greger’s website has lots of really good information on how to treat depression. Using a multi focused approach with the spiritual/physical/mental/social does wonders for the soul.
    Blessings to all of you searching for answers,

    Comment by Barbara — December 27, 2018 @ 9:18 PM

  24. Have you tried RTMS? its a very promosing therapy. google it.

    Comment by None — March 26, 2019 @ 12:21 AM

  25. Taylor, I am so, so sorry for the terrible problems you are having, and it is ludicrous for your doctors to refuse to say that you are disabled, since it is die to your condition that you are unable to drive. It is very obvious to me that you are suffering from depression, but it does NOT appear that Prozac is helping you. However, since I am not a psychiatrist, I can not diagnose your particular type of depression, let alone the type of drug that might help you. However, I suspect that you need to find a new psychiatrist, i.e.: a well-regarded one who is very knowledgeable about not only the various kinds of depressive disorders, but of ALL psychiatric disorders, as well as knowledgeable about the numerous meds and other methods available to treat these many and varied disorders. Please, please, please do NOT give up because I, too, have had a very long road during which I suffered from complicated grief AND MISdiagnosis from several docs till I landed in the ER again 9 yrs. later, at which time God finally answered my prayers by setting me up with the best psychiatrist in town. This doc just happened to be subbing in at the ER for the doc I’d been regularly seeing for my depression, who also missed my real diagnosis, which turned out to be Bipolar Disorder Type II. Sure, I was devastated when I learned what I was actually suffering from, but I was relieved to know that I could finally begin to receive the proper treatment for my debilitating symptoms, which had also caused me to have to stop working, as this undiagnosed depression had also led to additional serious health issues. It’s not easy, but with a good doc, it WILL get better, so please, persevere till you find him or her. Taylor, you and everyone on this thread all have my prayers.

    Comment by Terri Wilson — April 15, 2019 @ 1:22 PM

  26. I also understood that the meds themselves could also cause problems with cognitive skills, and my p-doc also acknowledged this fact. In addition, when you receive your meds, you should receive paperwork that lists the medicines’ side-effects. This is where you will find the cognitive problems caused by the antidepressants and additional psych meds. However, there is a saying: “Forewarned is forearmed,” but I must admit that I did not heed the advice implied in this saying, so I am now noticing that my memory is not as sharp as it used to be, nor is my thinking as clear.

    Comment by Terri Wilson — April 15, 2019 @ 2:20 PM

  27. My daughter has suffered with depression, OCD, anxiety, and dsythemia and other mental issues for 11 years. I have tried being supportive. I can tell her she is pretty but she cant geel that way she hates herself and wants to die. She is able to work 2 days a week and is a perfectionist at work. Has one friend she dies not share her illness with and has difficulty connecting to anyone. Its hard to watch and must be 100x harder to live with a brain that does not produce the happiness she cant feel. She feels nothing. She is 24 and says she will never make it to 30. I am frightened for her. Mental illness is so hard to treat with the right medications combined with therapy. She struggles to even go to the doctors.

    Comment by Holly — August 26, 2019 @ 11:30 AM

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