Does the hippocampus regrow after the end of depression?

The hippocampus shrinks as people get depressed.

My question is; if someone recovers from depression, does it regrow?
Will I ever be back to where I was prior to this illness?

Not sure 100%, but I’m pretty sure yes. But:

  1. The hippocampus is one of the few brain areas that we know for certain regenerates neurons. Most of the others can create new connections between neurons, but not new ones. This is a topic of current research and maybe there are more regions with neurogenesis.

  2. Depression has some environmental factors, but often has a strong genetic component. If that is already there, then the predisposition still exists even if drugs manage the symptoms. So be careful when searching: terminology may not suggest that depression is “gone.”

Cite for yes: The role of the hippocampus in the pathophysiology of major depression - PMC

Thanks, that’s a relief

I did not know this.

If it isn’t to much of a hijack, are there any other physical changes to the brain because of Major Depression? What about someone who has had it for decades, long term damage/changes?


Me either.

I would rather like to see a cite.

I can definitely vouch for the fact that you can, in fact, recover. I had a heavy dose of major depression a little under two years ago. The worst part lasted about two months, and full recovery took about six months more.

I’m comfortable saying I feel “pre-depressed” now, although I am definitely more susceptible to brief “flashbacks” of depression that only last a day or so. I attribute this largely to the fact that the stressors / causes of the original depression haven’t much improved.

whynot’s first link is quite good and suggests that the relatively smaller hippocampal volume associated with prolonged major depression is there for a long time after the depression:


OTOH their answer to the next important question is short on detail:

Here’s that reference 5. The actual studies are few and none are prospective. There seems to be no evidence either way in fact. The studies referenced in truth do not seem to document atrophy; they document an association of subtle smaller hippocampal volumes with prolonged major depression which may be the result of, or a predisposing factor to, major prolonged depression. The possibility that such was what predisposed to the major depression is not ruled out, rather the sequence of depression leading to volume loss is “tacitly” assumed because “plausible candidate mechanisms exist.”

A bit sloppy even if it turns out to be true.

Also of note. The association is for prolonged major depression only. Not just severe depression. Not just for recurrent depression.

Well I have prolonged major depression, still, at least I can look forward to recovery in other areas.

Another single data point here, but I had severe depression in my early 20’s. Now each day is a joyous adventure for me. Have no idea what effect all that had on the size of my hippocampus, tho.

Another one-of anecdote -

I had severe depression as a result of PTSD. It took about four years, but I got through the worst and now barely have any symptoms (since it’s never really “gone”).

Your question was “Will I ever be back to where I was prior to this illness?”

In terms of how you feel and function, the answer is a pretty definite yes. Depression is treatable. People get better. They go on to full functioning once again. The anecdotes shared here are pretty representative of most people’s expriences.

As far as your hippocampus size goes, we have no idea if it is smaller than average and if it is if it always was or has become so because of the illness, but it is likely to stay more or less whatever size it is now. And you should be able to function and feel *just as you had before *your illness with your hippocampus that size.

That’s good to hear.

All true, but with one huge, potentially-optimism-killing exception: once you’ve suffered from depression, you now live in a world where you’ve suffered from depression, i.e. once you have the knowledge of how low you can really go, you can’t unlearn what you’ve learned. The fear that comes from that loss of innocence never leaves you, IME.

Sadly (no pun intended), recovering from depression is unlike recovering from a broken bone, and more like going into remission from cancer or recovering from alcoholism-- once it happens, for the rest of your life you’ll be afraid it’ll happen again. People who have never suffered from depression tend not to appreciate that fact (and thus many innocently yet ignorantly question why people continue with therapy or medicine long after they “cured” their depression-- it’s because you don’t want to ever go through it again!).

Yeah, but now you now what depression is. Other people saw “I’m depressed after I watched that movie.” No, you’re sad. “I’m depressed because my grandma died.” I’m sorry, and it’s possible, but you’re still probably just sad.

I think of depression as a state. You can laugh and smile and sometimes it’s faking (but he was so happy), but you are just that much more likely to sink low over minor things and misinterpret innocuous situations.