The Chemistry Behind Depression and Mental Illness

Last month I received a phone call from my sister out of the blue. We often catch up weekly, but on this particular week, I had already spoken to her. When I answered the phone, the voice on the other line was full of passion and frustration.

My sister is a chemist who has only a few short months until she receives her PhD. While doing her research, she came across data supporting and explaining the chemical imbalance that someone suffering from depression or a mental illness faces. Although my sister has been a major part of my support system, it wasn’t until last month that I realized just how supportive she really is. She went on to tell me of the frustration she feels when people believe that medications are a “crutch” for someone dealing with a mental illness and the stigma that surrounds this topic.

The comparison was brought about that if you had cancer or diabetes, that medication would be the first step in overcoming and working through those diseases.

“Why, then, wouldn’t someone with a mental illness want to get that same help and treatment?”


My point exactly.

It is in these out-of-the-blue moments and side conversations that I remember why I fight for this cause.

Below is a post from the (almost) Dr. Hoover:

As a scientist, I like to look at problems in a critical manner. When I think of depression or any mental illness, I think of these from a chemical imbalance perspective. If you can inhibit the production of a certain chemical (dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, epinephrine) and induce depression, how can one argue there is not a need for medication to restore a better balance of these “feel good molecules”?
Major depression affects 5% of people globally. While we refer to it as a chemical imbalance, it’s truly not that simple. Many chemicals are involved in the process, working both inside and outside of nerve cells. Millions, even billions, of chemical reactions are responsible for controlling a person’s mood and how they experience life. Scientists understand the brain better than they ever have, but we have a long way to go to truly understand how depression works at the molecular level. For now, I will choose to focus on dropping the stigma of taking medication that may help a person live a happier, fuller life.

Depression in New Moms

Baby season is in full swing. With the arrival of Prince William and Kate Middleton’s Royal Baby and with other babies popping up all over the radar, both in the news and in personal lives around me, I thought it was important to address the topic of depression in new moms.

Though stories of depression in new parents will not be the stories that make the headlines in the newspapers (apparently not as interesting as Kate and William’s baby name, which is George, by the way), but this is still an important topic to discuss.

One of the main misconceptions people have of pregnant women and new moms are that they should be overjoyed with the arrival of the new baby, but sometimes, this isn’t the case. Not only can depression occur after the baby is born, but depression can occur during the pregnancy stages and can come about long after the baby arrives.

Having a baby, whether it is your very first child or your fifth, can be an overwhelming experience to adjust to. Not only does the new mom have to now deal with the changes of her body and the change of dynamics in the relationship with her significant other, but now a crying infant is thrown into the mix who needs constant love and attention. Who wouldn’t be overwhelmed?

It’s important to take a second to stop and ask yourself if what you’re feeling is short-term, and is just a part of the adjustment period, or if this is more long-term and needs some attention.

Though I’m not a parent, I do know enough about parenting to know that the last thing a mom is going to do is think about herself, but in the end, this can be the most beneficial thing a new mom can do; if not for her own health but for the well-being of her child.

Depression greatly affects the person who is suffering, but it can also begin to affect those closest to that person; especially an infant who is completely dependent on them.

If you think you, or someone you know, may need help, there are online screening tests that can be found online in order to begin to take that first step.

Whether you’re following the Royal Baby, watching Snooki lose her baby weight, or just having conversations with a friend who is beginning the new journey of being a parent, there are important questions to ask and signs to look for.

Cory Monteith’s Death

I woke up with a heavy heart on Sunday morning. As I was going to silence the alarm on my phone I read an update from USA Today that “Glee” star, Cory Monteith, had died the previous day in his Vancouver hotel.

I’m not all that interested in celebrity news, I watch the occasional Entertainment Tonight episode, a few reality shows, and browse the headlines of gossip magazines while in line at the grocery store, but many times when I hear news like this I’m not that affected. This time was different.

I remember hearing back in March that the actor had voluntarily admitted himself into rehab. Given the history of people I care about, I was interested in this news. My own boyfriend had been through a bit of the same thing, so I thought it was a great step for Monteith to take and was even better that his girlfriend, co-star Lea Michele, was standing by his side as well.

So when I heard the news that he died, my mind immediately went to his girlfriend. Granted, I didn’t know the cause behind his death, but being as he had admitted to being a previous addict and his rehab history, I had my speculations.

The news of his death hit me like a ton of bricks. I don’t know these actors, nor what may go on behind the scenes in their own lives, but I do know what it’s like to love someone who is struggling and I know the heartache that follows losing someone you love so much.

It’s times like these that I wish we could talk openly about mental health, addiction, depression, and substance abuse in our society today. We tend to look down on people involved in any of these, we criticize them for the mistakes they make, comment on their trip(s) to rehab, and then just sit back and hear the news of their death. This isn’t something that we as a society should just accept.

Whether it’s a celebrity, co-worker, or your best friend, we need to open our eyes to the struggles that people we see every day are enduring. We can’t wait until it’s too late to speak up or ask someone if they’re okay.

Daily Reminders

This past Monday I was approached by a friend at the end of, what seemed to be, a very long day.

“Tell me one thing about your day that you really enjoyed.”

For a person who gets the Monday Blues pretty regularly, this was a hard question for me to answer. After thinking for a little bit of one thing that happened that day that made me happy, I responded.

“My drive to and from work…I rolled my windows down and turned my country music up. And for a little bit, it felt as though I didn’t have a care in the world.”

Something as simple as that was the one thing I looked forward to that day. And still do most days. That little time I took out of the day for me, made some of the unbearable days, seem a little more bearable.

A few days after that conversation, my sister sent me a link to a site that displayed over 20 photos and stories of people with depression who found strength and comfort in their tattoos they chose as daily reminders of how far they had come. By the time I came to the end of the slideshow, I could feel the sense of loss and defeat that these people had been through, but I could also see the strength and empowerment they felt from overcoming their daily battles, even if it was only for a moment.

It was then that I looked down at my wrist and realized I was one of those people, too. The simple tattoo I have on my write says Breathe. I got it after my mom had been hospitalized from her cancer and saw how hard it was for her to take a simple breath or to walk a flight of stairs.

I realized how much I had been taking my life for granted. I spent most of my days feeling sorry for myself or questioning why I was put in the situations that I had been. I was blaming the world for all of my problems but not doing anything to change my life. Don’t get me wrong, I still have plenty of those days where I just want to wallow, but now when I do I look down at my wrist. I see the reminder for me to take a breath. Slow my life down and, instead of getting overwhelmed at the big picture, live in the moment. I wrote this the day before I got the tattoo:

One word. It’s a part of every second of every day. It’s supposed to be one of the most simple things a human can do. But sometimes life and events can get in the way. And what was once simple, is now more difficult than ever. It’s in these moments that you have to remember you’re stronger than you believe. Just breathe.

Some days are harder than others, that’s no surprise. And having a reminder or something to look forward to each day isn’t always going to change the hard days. But some days it helps.
Even in our darkest moments, we need to know there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Because, no matter how far away that light may be, it is there.

Just Breathe

“Is it worth it?”

Is it worth it? Those four words can have so much power behind them.

Is it worth it to travel across country, just because you want to? Is it worth it to go to college? To fall in love? To get a divorce? There are endless possibilities as to what could be worth it.

Last week, I met a woman who quickly turned into a friend and it was as though I’d known her for months instead of days. This woman was going through a major tribulation in her personal life and was at a loss as to what she was supposed to do now. This woman also happened to struggle with her diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia.

I was with this woman for six and a half days straight and we talked about everything we could think of. She told me about her husband and three girls, we talked about college, work, love, and the inevitable heartbreak that we’ve both had to endure in our lives. Of course, that brought up the death of my boyfriend and my mom and the highs and lows I’ve experienced because of the events life has thrown my way.

On the last day together, an hour before I was supposed to leave, this woman called me into her room. She sat down and with tears in her eyes she looked at me and asked those four words.

“Is it worth it?”

I didn’t know how to respond to that question. And even though I knew what she was talking about, I clarified.

“Life?” I responded. And after a few seconds passed, I added, “It really is.”

There have been many times in my life that I have asked myself that exact question. Is life worth the disappointment the heartbreak, the grieving? Is it worth giving up all of the highs for some of the lows?
I don’t think so.

Everyone is going to respond to this question differently, and honestly, I wasn’t sure how I would respond to it until I had no other choice but to reply.

There’s going to be many trials and difficulties in life, but trading all of the good for some of the bad isn’t worth it, either.

After the question was asked, I sat there talking to this woman about being on the other side of suicide and being on the other side of not having a mom. I explained the difficulties I have every day dealing with both of these.

Not every day is going to be perfect, and you’re going to have days that are much more trying than others. But you’re also going to have days that you stand in the sunshine and are so thankful to be alive. Life isn’t going to be easy, but I think that it is worth it.

Depression and Suicide Know No Age Limit

I was reading the TWLOHA blog the other day and came across a story that made me stop in the middle of my day to take a second to think of all the people out there who are, or have, been suffering.
The blog post was written by one of the interns about the depression and suicide attempt that his grandma had gone through. I’m not sure about you, but many times when I think of depression or suicide, I am guilty of thinking mainly of younger people struggling with these issues; rarely do I think that someone my parent’s age, or even older than that, would struggle with such hardships. But it makes sense, doesn’t it? The people in that generation have lived much longer, and faced more struggles in their life than any of us may ever have to endure.
This post broadened my horizons a lot and left me wanting to go hug my grandparents and be willing to listen to their stories – both good and bad.
I hope this post finds you well and has as much impact on your day as it had on mine.