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What Chemical In The Brain Causes Depression

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The Effects Of Brain Changes

What Causes Depression? It’s Not Just A Chemical Imbalance

If you compare the brain of someone with depression to the brain of someone who is not depressed, on the outside they look pretty similar. However, when imaging scans from such tests as an MRI have been used to look inside the brain, discernible differences in brain activity have been noted in the brains of people with depression, particularly those with long-term or chronic depression. People with a history of chronic depression have been found, on average, to have a smaller hippocampusa part of the brain that is involved in memoryand a thinner right cortex, which is involved in mood.

Researchers still dont know the exact reasons for these differences, but they may reflect the long-term impact on the brain of biochemical changes related to stress and depression. In turn, these differences may affect the brains ability to process emotional stimuli and respond to new environmental stresses.

Normal activity in the brain is also disrupted in depression. Regions of the brain that are involved in reward processing are less active in depressed people. As a result, people who are depressed sometimes say that they have almost entirely lost the ability to experience pleasure . Many people with depression no longer look forward to activities they once enjoyed, like traveling to a favorite destination, watching a favorite sport, or going out with friends.

Can Chemical Imbalance In The Brain Cause Depression

Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, an estimated five percent of adults worldwide, or 280 million people, are affected by some form of depressive illness.

Although depression is widespread, experts still arent aware of the precise factors that cause it to develop.

Some theories on the causes of depression revolve around risk factors, such as chronic stress, illness or a family history of depression.

Below, weve explained the basics of this theory, as well as how certain brain chemicals could play a role in the development of depression and other mood disorders.

Weve also explained how common treatments for depression, such as antidepressants, work by targeting these chemicals to improve your moods, thoughts and behaviors and reduce the severity of depression symptoms.

Finally, weve shared what you can do if youre feeling depressed and want to get help from a mental health professional.

The Chemistry Of Depression A Therapist Knows

What Is The Biochemical Basis Of Depression?

We all know that chemical imbalance in the brain causes depression and other types of mental health disorders in the brain, and the medications alter these abnormalities by maintaining the right balance of these substances. Thats what a therapist would say to discuss it biochemically. This is also a very scientific explanation, and some of us might get confused. So what does chemical imbalance in the brain have to do with depression?

Neurotransmitters Chemical Messengers Of The Brain

We have heard a lot about these neurotransmitters maybe from a class, we attended, a doctor, or a friend, but still have little idea about them. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that send messages to the brain. These messages are how our nerve cells communicate. Ron Breazeale, PhD, wrote, Neurotransmitters control virtually all of the bodys functions, from feeling happy to modulating hormones to dealing with stress.

Neurotransmitters In Action

Groups of neurotransmitter molecules are released through the end of the presynaptic cell or the axon into space between two nerve cells called synapses. They are then taken to the receptors of the postsynaptic nerve cell or the dendrite passing along the chemical message. Any excess molecule is brought back to the presynaptic cell to be processed again.

Neurotransmitters And Mood Regulations

Three neurotransmitters, also known as monoamines, play a vital role in mood regulations:



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What Causes Depression: Brain Chemistry

You might have heard that depression stems from a chemical imbalance, and thats partly true. In people with depression, the levels of certain brain chemicals are thought to be out of balance, particularly these neurotransmitters:

Antidepressant medications are believed to work, in part, by helping correct these brain chemical imbalances.

While serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine have long been considered the big three neurotransmitters involved in depression, recent research suggests that what causes depression may be more complicated than just having not enough or too much of these neurotransmitters in certain parts of the brain.

How Can Believing This Myth Hamper Recovery

Brain Chemicals Restoration / Frequency Healing Addictions / OCD ...

Anxiety is caused by specific underlying factors those behaviors , situations, and circumstances that motivate anxious behavior.

If you believe anxiety disorder is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain rather than your underlying factors, you would take a medication to correct the imbalance rather than working on addressing your underlying factors.

Since anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications are largely ineffective, you could take a medication for years and not see meaningful or lasting progress.

Applying a remedy for the wrong problem is not going to solve the real problem. Therefore, it’s unrealistic to expect to overcome anxiety disorder if the real cause isnt successfully addressed.

Addressing the true cause of anxiety disorder equips us with the necessary strategies and tools to overcome it. Any other approach will cause the problem and its symptoms to remain.

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Is There A Test To Identify A Chemical Imbalance In The Brain

There are no reliable tests to diagnose a chemical imbalance in the brain.

Doctors can perform tests to assess the levels of serotonin and other chemicals in your blood. However, this is not an accurate representation of the amount of these present in your brain.

A wide range of factors may contribute to a person developing depression. However, family genetics does appear to play a role.

Research shows that a family history of depression 37 percent .

Many smaller studies had identified genetic components that may be associated with depression. However, further, more conclusive research is required to fully assess the exact role genetics has in depression.

Stress And Crisis Resources

For immediate assistance, the following resources are available 24/7 unless otherwise noted:

  • Dial 911 or go to your nearest emergency room or urgent care
  • Crisis Text Line: Text BAY to 741741
  • Star Vistas Crisis Hotline:
  • Uplift Mobile Crisis Team: / toll-free
  • Alum Rock Mobile Crisis:
  • Lifeline Crisis Chat: crisischat.org
  • OnYourMind Teen Chat : onyourmind.net

A screening can help you determine if you or someone you care about should contact a mental health professional. Care Coordinators can arrange a free 30 minute Care Consultation so you can explore options with an expert. Call or email our Care Coordinators at 650.688.3625 or to set up an initial Consultation appointment.

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Is Depression Really Caused By A Chemical Imbalance

There was little evidence to make this definitive conclusion. Rather, while there is evidence that shows antidepressants like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors can be effective in the treatment of depression, the exact reason for how this improvement happens isnt known.

Chemical imbalance and serotonin deficiency were used as a metaphor for the more complex workings in the brain and factors involved with depression. This erroneously led many people to believe that treating depression with antidepressants was like treating hypothyroidism with thyroid medications or type 1 diabetes with insulina simple matter of replenishing low serotonin.

More recent advertising highlights that the medication affects neurotransmitters instead of correcting an imbalance. This reflects the complexity and nuance involved in treating depression and how treatments for mental health conditions are not one-size-fits-all.

Its suggested that there is no optimal amount of neurotransmitters, so it would be difficult to define an imbalance. In addition, medications that are not SSRIs have also been shown to alleviate depression symptoms. This implies that depression is more than a simple chemical imbalance.

While brain chemicals play a part in depression, things like nerve cell connections, nerve cell growth, and the functioning of nerve circuits also contribute to depression.

What Is A Chemical Imbalance In The Brain

Amino Acids can help Brain Chemistry, Depression and Anxiety Problems

Neurotransmitters are natural chemicals that help ease the communication between your nerve cells. Examples include norepinephrine and serotonin.

Some people claim that mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety, result from a chemical imbalance in the brain. The hypothesis is sometimes called the chemical imbalance hypothesis or chemical imbalance theory.

However, its important to know that the chemical imbalance theory requires revision. Communication between neurons in the brain in the processes underlying depression.

However, much research states that an imbalance of neurotransmitters does not cause depression.

Structures within the brain, including the frontal lobe and hippocampus, regulate your mood and emotions.

Studies have observed

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Myth #: Anxiety Is Caused By A Chemical Imbalance In The Brain

Since the late 1980s, we were told that anxiety disorder, depression, and many other mental illnesses were caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain.

It was claimed that mental illness, including anxiety disorder, was caused by an imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain. It was also claimed that correcting this imbalance with the right medication would resolve the mental illness.

The persuasion was so convincing that medications recommended to correct this imbalance saw multiple billions of dollars in sales each year. Many of these medications were in the top ten most sold medications year after year.

Yet, the chemical imbalance theory was never proven. It had always been speculated.

After independent research found the chemical imbalance cause for mental illness was false, and after finding medications used to treat this imbalance were largely ineffective, opinions began to change.

Due to pressure from independent research and from mental health professionals who knew mental illness wasnt caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, the chemical imbalance theory was discarded.

In 2011, the chemical imbalance cause for mental illness was officially put to rest by Dr. Ronald Pies, the editor-in-chief emeritus of the Psychiatric Times.

So, no, anxiety disorder is not caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. It never was.

You can learn more about the demise of the Chemical Imbalance theory:

Is There A Depression Gene

While its true that your chances of developing depression increase if another family member has it, there isnt one single gene that determines depression. On the other hand, inherited disorders like cystic fibrosis or Huntingtons disease have a clearly defined gene mutation or genetic cause.

So far, the search for a single gene that can cause depression has been elusive. Instead, there seem to be many genes that contribute to depression, each of which has only a small effect. This points to depression being a complex condition with many different causes.

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What Happens In The Brain With Anxiety

Neuroimaging studies reliably show changes in brain function among those who experience chronic anxiety, and they involve dysfunction of connectivity among areas of the brain that work together to orchestrate emotional response. Under normal circumstances the brain region known as the amygdala flags threats and, in an act of protection, sends out a signal to many parts of the brain. The stress response system kicks in immediately, preparing the body for action. On a slower track, signals travel to the prefrontal cortex, the so-called thinking brain, where the threat can be evaluated and, if needed, action planned to ameliorate any potential danger. But in anxiety, often because the amygdala has been sensitized by early adverse experience, it overresponds, overwhelming the capacity of the PFC to rationally assess and manage any threat, however remote or hypothetical.

Researchers have recently identified a tiny brain region known as the BNST, the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis, as a major node in brain circuits of anxiety. About the size of a small sunflower seed, it is considered an extension of the amygdala. Its primary function is to monitor the environment for vague, psychologically distant, or unpredictable threatssay, imagining that youll stumble badly and embarrass yourself when you give that upcoming talk. And when activated, it sends out alarms prompting alertness and hypervigilance to potential dangerthe hallmarks of anxiety.

Proposed Symptoms Of A Chemical Imbalance In The Brain

Depression: the chemical and emotional of our brain

Scientists in the late 1950s proposed the chemical imbalance theory following the reversal of depressive symptoms with monoamine oxidase inhibitors , tricyclic antidepressants , and serotonin reuptake inhibitors all of which increased the concentration of neurotransmitters .

Research at the time focused on the role that chemicals in the brain play in depression and anxiety. These researchers hypothesized that insufficient levels of neurotransmitters could lead to symptoms, such as:

  • feelings of sadness, helplessness, worthlessness, or emptiness
  • overeating or a loss of appetite
  • insomnia or sleeping too much
  • restlessness
  • a feeling of impending doom or danger
  • lack of energy

While chemical changes in the body may occur during depression, research has not proven that these imbalances directly cause the above symptoms.

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Is Depression Common

About 16.2 million adult Americans suffer from what is known as major depressive disorder. The lifetime risk of women developing depression is 70 percent higher than men. Around the world, 350 million people suffer depression. Depression is responsible for the loss of $33 to $44 billion a year in the form of absenteeism, reduced productivity, and medical expenses.

Depression is also common in patients with Parkinsons disease an estimated 50 percent have some form of depression. Often, depression begins years before the patient has any of the physical symptoms of Parkinsons disease . This is caused by a decrease in chemicals, such as dopamine, within the brain as Parkinsons disease begins. Depression in Parkinsons disease affects quality of life, as much as the movement problems themselves.

What Is Depression

The National Institute of Mental Health describes depression as a common but serious mood disorder that negatively determines how we think, feel, and behave. Depression makes normal day-to-day activities difficult to complete and, at its worst, can make us believe that life itself isnt worth living. The World Health Organization calls depression the leading cause of disability worldwide yet most of us are unaware of the conditions symptoms or its root causes.

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How To Get Help

Tell your doctor if you have symptoms of depression. Theyâll want to rule out other health conditions so they can find you the right treatment. You might need to make some lifestyle changes, take medicine, or talk to a mental health specialist. Some people benefit from a mix of all three.

Some treatments for mild or serious depression include:

Suicide is a serious symptom of depression. Get help right away if youâre thinking about hurting yourself. You can reach someone at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Theyâre available anytime, day or night.

Show Sources

Molecular Psychiatry: âSubcortical brain alterations in major depressive disorder: findings from the ENIGMA Major Depressive Disorder working group.â

Translational Psychiatry: âProfound and reproducible patterns of reduced regional gray matter characterize major depressive disorder.â

Neural Plasticity: âThe Role of Neural Plasticity in Depression: From Hippocampus to Prefrontal Cortex.â

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America : âDepression, antidepressants, and the shrinking hippocampus.â

Frontiers in Immunology: âThe Role of Inflammation in Depression and Fatigue.â

The Lancet Psychiatry: âMicroglia and major depression: not yet a clear picture,â âAssociation of translocator protein total distribution volume with duration of untreated major depressive disorder: a cross-sectional study.â

Oxytocin The Warm And Fuzzy One

Chemical Imbalance in the Brain Symptoms, Causes, Tests, Treatment

Oxytocin is known as the love hormone and it can promote trust, empathy, and bonding in relationships. Along with serotonin and dopamine, oxytocin completes the trio of feel-good chemicals. Oxytocin is used by the body in childbirth, breastfeeding and sex. Low levels of oxytocin have been linked with depression but we dont completely understand the role of oxytocin in building relationships and more research is needed. How oxytocin regulates mood is also not straightforward. Boosting oxytocin levels may help to treat social phobia, depression, and anger problems.

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What Happen To Neurotransmitters In Space

The presynaptic cells recycle neurotransmitter that remains in space. Each kind of neurotransmitter may convey a distinct message. This contribution helps stimulate the development of an individuals brain chemistry.

Any neurotransmitter imbalance is a hallmark for mental health disorders, such as depression.

What Is An Anxiety Disorder

An anxiety disorder is a type of mental health condition. If you have an anxiety disorder, you may respond to certain things and situations with fear and dread. You may also experience physical signs of anxiety, such as a pounding heart and sweating.

Its normal to have some anxiety. You may feel anxious or nervous if you have to tackle a problem at work, go to an interview, take a test or make an important decision. And anxiety can even be beneficial. For example, anxiety helps us notice dangerous situations and focuses our attention, so we stay safe.

But an anxiety disorder goes beyond the regular nervousness and slight fear you may feel from time to time. An anxiety disorder happens when:

  • Anxiety interferes with your ability to function.
  • You often overreact when something triggers your emotions.
  • You cant control your responses to situations.

Anxiety disorders can make it difficult to get through the day. Fortunately, there are several effective treatments for anxiety disorders.

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What Are The Signs Of Depression

If you have several of the following symptoms for longer than two weeks at a time, you should contact your doctor:

  • Depressed mood
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Change in appetite
  • Sudden change in level of physical activity
  • Difficulty with concentration or making decisions
  • Irritability

There also are physical signs of depression, which include:

  • Downcast eyes
  • Flattened expressions
  • Slower movement or fatigue that may be similar to the symptoms of Parkinsons disease

This often makes it a challenge to diagnose depression in someone with Parkinsons disease. In addition, depression can actually make the physical effects of Parkinsons disease worse, so its important to recognize and treat these symptoms right away.

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