Depression is one of the leading mental health diagnoses, affecting over 45 million individuals each year worldwide. It’s characterized by low mood, decreased energy, prolonged sadness, low self-esteem, hopelessness, and a lack of interest in activities. While many individuals will experience at least one depressive episode in their lives, others struggle with chronic depression that can feel debilitating and unrelenting. Regardless of the severity of the depression, it can affect work, relationships, self-esteem, and overall health. There are many schools of thought about how and why individuals develop depression and the neurophysiological roots of the disorder.
Getting to the roots
Deficient levels of certain neurotransmitters, like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine have long been associated with depression. Many pharmaceutical depression medications like SSRIs, SNRIs, TCAs, and MAOIs attempt to correct these deficiencies and are commonly prescribed. However, recent research also suggests that electrical activity within various brain regions may be compromised. EEGs of the “depressed brain” show alpha asymmetry, with an excess of alpha in the frontal lobe, especially in the left hemisphere. This asymmetry can contribute to many depression symptoms like trouble with emotional modulation, brain fog, and concentration issues.
Similar with the anxious brain, the ways in which the amygdala and the hippocampus communicate have also been linked to lower moods and heightened stress responses. The amygdala and hippocampus are key players in the brain’s limbic system and both play important roles in emotional processing and consolidation of emotional memories. These structures can become over-active, leading to altered emotional responses and consequently overpowering some of the core functions of the frontal lobe like decision making, regulation, and focus.
How we can help
At NeuroGrove, the first step of any treatment package is a comprehensive assessment that includes QEEG brain mapping, LORETA 3D neuroimaging, various testing, and a thorough discussion of symptoms and goals. This allows us to assess for the brain patterns most commonly associated with depression. Both neurofeedback and neurostimulation can be used to restore healthy brain wave activity, correct alpha asymmetry, and improve communication across the brain. Biofeedback and mindfulness training can help you to gain more control over your autonomic nervous system, allowing you to modulate physiological responses like breathing, heart rate, body temperature, and muscle tension. Mindfulness is an especially important skill to learn for better managing depression as it can help you stay in the present moment, observe thoughts, and gain awareness around the core beliefs that can contribute to depression. Through movement therapy, we teach you healthy forms of emotional release and ways to connect with your body. Functional medicine testing and nutritional coaching address some common contributing factors to depression like diet, gut health, hormonal imbalances, inflammation etc. Whichever services you choose to engage with, we will work collaboratively with you to address your mood from an integrative lens and focus on improving your overall brain-body wellness so you can be the best version of you!
What the research says
Depression can affect individuals of all ages and backgrounds and is one of the leading causes of disability around the world. Because depression affects not only mood, but energy levels, concentration, motivation, and self-concept as well, it’s easy to understand how the disorder can make daily life tasks extremely difficult. Empirical research suggests that neurotherapy and integrative modalities can play important roles in the treatment of depression and other mood related disorders by addressing their underlying neurological and physiological causes.
Alpha asymmetry is commonly observed in the EEGs of those with depression. One study looked at using neurofeedback to address this asymmetry by increasing the activation of the left hemisphere and/or decreasing the activation of the right hemisphere (Baehr, Rosenfeld, & Baehr, 2008). The participants each underwent 34 sessions of neurofeedback and completed the MMPI-2 (a psychological measure) at the beginning and end of treatment. Results from the MMPI-2 suggest that alpha asymmetry training could be an effective modality to use with individuals with depression, especially when paired with psychotherapy.
Another study (Wang et al., 2016) also examined the efficacy of using neurofeedback to decrease alpha asymmetry in the brains of those with depression using two groups of participants. One group received neurofeedback training for 1 hour each week for 6 weeks and the other group received no training. At the end of the 6 weeks, the group that received neurofeedback not only showed a balancing of alpha activity but also reported lowered anxiety and depression while the control group reported an overall increase of depression and anxiety symptoms. This, again, suggests that neurotherapy, specifically addressing alpha asymmetry can provide individuals with symptom relief and improved brain functioning.
More more research studies on this topic, see our Research page.
Baehr, E., Rosenfeld, J. P., & Baehr, R. (1997). The clinical use of an alpha asymmetry protocol in the neurofeedback treatment of depression: Two case studies. Journal of Neurotherapy, 2(3), 10–23.
Wang, S.-Y., Lin, I.-M., Peper, E., Chen, Y.-T., Yeh, Y.-C., …. Chu, C.-C. (2016). The efficacy of neurofeedback among patients with major depressive disorder. Preliminary study. NeuroRegulation, 3(3), 127-134.