The Neuroscience of Depression – And What to Do About It


Math for Primates co-host Nick Horton wrote a personal post on how he manages his depression. Here’s a bit on the neuroscience of depression:

The Prefrontal cortex is the part of your brain that deals with (among other things) the regulation of mood states. If it is atrophied, then your ability to deal with these tasks gets downgraded. This becomes particularly problematic given that without the prefrontal cortex running at full speed, you can’t dampen the negative emotions generated by the Amygdala. The amygdala is that part of your brain that deals with Fight or Flight responses. It is your brains Fear Factory. To add fuel to the fire, in depressed people the amygdala tends to be overactive.

Think of the Amygdala and the prefrontal cortex as the brains Yin and Yang. You need both to be strong and healthy to have a strong healthy brain that is in balance. Depressed folk ain’t in balance. Generally, the prefrontal cortex is responsible for saying, “Hey, Amygdala, I got your message. We’re cool here. No need to freak out, dude!” But, when your brain is broke (like mine), you can be flooded with negative emotional responses that can result in despair and overwhelming helplessness.

The Iron Samurai: Managing Depression With Weightlifting? Or, How You Feel Is A Lie

I found this part interesting as well:

Depression is so debilitating precisely because of the trick your mind plays on you. It tricks you into believing that how you feel is valid. This sparks a downward spiral of sadness that makes life impossible. The more you play into its tricks, the harder it gets to drag yourself out of it.

It gave me an idea. People of above average intelligent are known to be prone to depression, right? Could it be because smart people are better at finding reasons to be depressed, locking themselves into this downward spiral? Could people of average or less intelligence be better at talking themselves out of being depressed? I’m not sure how to test this hypothesis.


  1. Weightlifting cured my mental issues dead. Henry Rollins also recommends it in his essay, “The Iron.”

  2. I think your hypothesis has weight. Seriously, most of the people I know coping with depression are incredibly intelligent. The more aware you are of existential abstractions, combined with some out of whack chemicals in your brain, combined with a strong ability to (pseudo) rationalize, seems like a pretty volatile cocktail for depression.

  3. Hi Klint – long time since I stopped by, but never stop digesting your newsletters. I think you hit on something profound at the end of this – re intelligence as a complicating factor in depression. Reminds me of the great book madness and modernism by Louis Sass that I read during my philosophy studies – link here –

    In a simplistic summary Sass argues that those that over reason – those prone to what he calls hyperrationality – are the most commonly also those who descend into schizophrenia, or who exhibit deep mental illness. In a sense, they think too much, and become lost in those thoughts. Reason here then is not the opposite of madness, rather another route into it.

    Check it out – it’s a deep wide ranging read regardless of whether the clinical proofs stand up.

  4. I believe some intelligent people are more prone to totally believe their own aparatus/mind/reality model, mistaking their map for the territory. Clever dudes had reinforcing experiences that cemented their belief in their opinions, so they sometimes forget the limitations of their minds. Our perception is pretty limited and intelligent people seem to forget it all too easily. “Dumb” people are always being reminded they could be wrong. I find some extremely intelligent people, seriously stupid for this reason. I could be wrong.. 😉

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