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.

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One thought on “The Chemistry Behind Depression and Mental Illness

  1. I a agree but only to a point. As far as the chemical imbalance in the brain, that has only been studied in those who are already depressed. So the resultsake sense. What no researcher has proven is which came first, the chemical imbalance or the depression. Of course, once it’s there, it does need to be treated.

    Secondly, even with the example of diabetes, there is much required of the individual to get better. My only issue is that too often pills are prescribed as the FIRST and ONLY option.

    Also, many studies have shown that anti-depressants are no better than placebos in many cases. Therapy and exercise have proved to be as good for many people, not to mention
    that’s medication does not work for over 30% of those who give them a good try. (Meaning they stay on them long enough.)

    Most people who suffer from depression have developed ways of
    thinking and behaving that have contributed to their illness. Pills can only do so much.

    I’m all for medication when REALLY needed. I’ve been on it myself. But depression is a “whole body” disease which means all of us, not just our chemistry, needs to be addressed.

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