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.

There is Still Good in the World

Over the past couple weeks I’ve been looking at articles, blogs, and other publications that have been making light of many serious topics ranging from the War in Afghanistan to suicide. This got me thinking, is there really much good left in the world?

After a few days of my cynism, I came across an organization called Sevenly. This is an organization based out of southern California that chooses a different non-profit organization to support each week and donates a portion of their t-shirt sales to the selected organization. After following the organization for a week and a half, I was pleasantly surprised to see TWOLHA as their organization of the week. Sevenly was supporting them in order to help raise money for awareness of teens battling depression and suicide. A smile spread across my face as I ordered my t-shirt and appeared again a week later when I received my package and on it, which read “woah, you just changed a life.” My skepticism seemed to wash away with the discovery of this new organization. That is, until I read another article.

The following article was written by The Onion, which is an online satire publication. Of course you have to take what you read with a grain of salt, and normally I find many of their articles witty and entertaining. This one, however, wasn’t appealing to me, which was a brief picture mocking Seasonal Affective Disorder (or Seasonal Winter Depression, as the article calls it). This is already a type of depression that is often joked about and poked fun at because many people don’t believe it is a true type of depression; many people fall into a funk in the winter, is often a popular rebuttal. It was after reading this article that I remembered something positive I had read about a few weeks earlier.

Lady Gaga, who was kicking off her 2013 Born This Way Ball, was offering the chance for attendees of the concert to receive free counseling pre-show in her Born Brave Bus. The pop star, along with counselors, were giving teens a chance to talk about depression, bullying, or any other topics that they may not feel comfortable talking about at home. This took me back to a post I wrote last year as Lady Gaga honored the life of Jayme Rodemeyer, one of her loving Monsters.

I realized my cynicism had been misplaced. If I allowed myself to fall into the negative trap that so easily encompassed me the past few weeks, then I was just as bad as the people writing them. Organizations like Sevenly and TWOLHA coupled with celebrities going out of their way, like Lady Gaga and Demi Lovato, reminded me that there is in fact still good in this world.

The struggle between the negative and positive, good and bad that I had been struggling with lately is nothing compared to what it is like to battle suicidal thoughts or depression every single day. Have you ever been conflicted between two very major decisions in your life? One of them you know is the obvious answer, and yet, you just can’t bring yourself to come to the conclusion right away? That is a brief glimpse into what it is like to struggle with suicide or depression. Just as we all have decisions we have to make — choosing good or bad, positive or negative — for a person with a mental illness, every day is a difficult decision. That person has to decide what is going to take over, the light or the dark. With strength from within and help from others, it is something that can be overcome. Maybe this is done through a positive message from a non-profit, a hug from a friend, or maybe just through the compassion of a stranger, the negativity, the darkness, is something we can all overcome together if we just try.

Hope and Renewal In Uncertain Times

In lieu of many things going on in my life, and in the lives of many others who may be struggling, I decided to share this article.

After the mass murders and shootings that have occurred in recent times, as well as losing loved ones due to long-term illnesses or suicide, I found this piece to be a glimpse of hope for those of us unable to currently see it.

This has helped me, and I hope, it can help you as well.

It is no accident that families who experience the sudden, violent loss of a loved one make a powerful commitment to fight the waste of life. Once one has touched the dark side of the moon, the power and vibrancy of life takes on a new meaning — it is not just having a life, it is being truly alive.- Ditta M. Oliker

Is There Always a Silver Lining?

silver-linings-playbook-posterA few weeks ago I went to see David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook. Though I went to see it as a way to escape the mundane elements of my own life, I found that it made me think more about the day-to-day aspects of life for those suffering from mental illness.

Two of the main characters, Pat (Bradley Cooper), and Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), suffer from mental illnesses. The movie begins with Pat leaving a mental institution after spending a court-ordered eight months there. Pat, who is diagnosed with bipolar disorder, must learn to live his life with this illness and mend relationships that he had broken in the past. Meanwhile, he meets up with Tiffany, who is dealing with issues of her own. After her husband dies, she begins a downward spiral into depression and a series of poor life choices. These two share a unique sort of bond, talking about medications and their supposed “craziness”.

Though the movie, in my opinion, was a great way to shed light onto certain aspects of mental illnesses, much of the movie seemed to focus on the manic personalities of these two characters. Along with the somewhat overplay of their mental illnesses, the role of the therapist, Dr. Patel, seemed to upset some mental health professionals, believing that this was not an accurate portrayal, “A therapist should provide a place of all feelings. If Dr. Patel had, Pat might have discovered his sadness isn’t crazy at all,” said Dr. Kunst in her breakdown of the movie.

Though the movie may not have accurately depicted some aspects of mental health issues or mental health professionals, the fact that this type of movie was released and has been doing well at the box offices says a lot about our society and their acceptance of mental illnesses.

Unlike Pat, I believe there is a time to be sad and to grieve, and that is a natural part of being human as well as living with a mental illness. However, I did enjoy his philopsophy on trying to stay positive in life, he said, “This is what I believe to be true: you have to do everything you can and if you stay positive you have a shot at a silver lining.”