Your Brain on Depression: Neuroscience, Animated

Depression is a multifaceted and insidious disorder, nearly as complex as the brain itself. As research continues to suggest, the onset of depression can be attributed to an interplay of the many elements that make us human—namely, our genetics, the structure and chemistry of our brains, and our lived experience. Second only, perhaps, to the confounding mechanics of anesthesia, depression is the ultimate mind-body problem; understanding how it works could unlock the mysteries of human consciousness.

Emma Allen, a visual artist, and Dr. Daisy Thompson-Lake, a clinical neuroscientist, are fascinated by the physical processes that underlie mental health conditions. Together, they created Adam, a stop-motion animation composed of nearly 1,500 photographs. The short film illuminates the neuroscience of depression while also conveying its emotive experience.

Video by Emma Allen

Short breakdown a description of scenes – Scene-by-scene breakdown

– Open with a shadow growing, whispering negativity, representing depression.
– Side view to see a network of neurons.
– Close up of the synapse between two neurons: neurotransmitters not being uptaken as they should be.
– Top view of the brain; flash to positron emission tomography (PET) scan of a depressed brain followed by an emotional response to this.
– An impression of a cross-section of the brain: activation in the hippocampus and the frontal lobe-
– The phrenology-style head displays the emotions and some of the physical reactions to depression, suggesting they are ‘short-circuiting’.
– ‘Phrenology’ falls away revealing the ‘cogs of the mind’, used to represent the complexities of the brain.
This is the pivotal point in the film: the brain starts ‘running smoothly’ and the depression starts to lift.
– The PET scan returns, except this time we see it turning slowly from a depressed brain to a non-depressed brain.
– Return to the synapse, but now with increased firing of our neurotransmitters, the second neuron receiving these efficiently.
– A reprise of the silhouette of two faces, this time the shadow has turned to a more ‘caring side’ bringing him back to himself and us.
– A lotus grows upwards and blossoms. representing an inner peace and the line
“Just like the lotus we too have the ability to rise from the mud, bloom out of the darkness and radiate into the world.” – Unknown

Adam – Grey Matters collaboration between artist Emma Allen and neuroscientist Daisy Thompson-Lake.

This piece is an animated portrait illustrating some of the underlying neurological processes and emotions associated with depression.

Created with face paint and stop-motion animation.
Copyright Emma Allen

Written, Directed and Animated – Emma Allen
Produced – Daisy Thompson-Lake, Emma Allen
Performance – Malik Ibheis
Camera & Lighting – Robin Samson
Sound Design – Tudor Brothers
Post Production – Huxley Studios
Neuroscience Consultant – Daisy Thompson-Lake

Supported by – Artichoke, Queen Mary Center for Public Engagement, The Flash Pack, Huxley Studio and all the wonderful folk who donated to our crowdfunding campaign

The Grey Matters mission is to raise awareness by creating artistic impressions of underlying neurological processes involved in mental health disorders. Adam, the first film in the series, tackles the subject of depression.

Emma Allen