brain chemistry

“What do you have to be sad about?”

For me, this is the most frequent, and annoying, question I get when I tell someone I have major depression and anxiety. I get that it’s hard for someone to understand all the intricacies that come along with mental illness but come on, people. I guess that’s why I’m here – to educate.

I’m aware I live a very good life and for that I’m grateful, but it’s totally not about that. My brain is telling me to be sad and feel worthless. The disease takes over my brain. Neurons misfire and god knows what else goes on up there. Doctors aren’t even sure why exactly or how depression occurs but they do believe certain factors are at play when it comes to mental illness including:

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Brain chemistry – Unruly neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are brain chemicals that interact with neurocircuits. Research now suggests that the function of these chemicals is interacting differently with the circuits that affect mood stability, according to the Mayo Clinic. These disruptions can also create problems with depression and treatment.

Hormones – This one is easy to understand. The Mayo clinic cited many different types of hormonal changes, especially for a woman, including pregnancy, post-partum (we’ll get to that one day) and menopause. It also mentions thyroid conditions such as hyper – or hypothyroidism (which I also have).

Last but not least is the question – is depression genetic? Scientists are starting to find that one is more likely to suffer from depression if a blood relative also has the condition. A study in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that women had a 42 percent chance of hereditary depression. Men had a 29% chance.

So even scientists and doctors aren’t certain what exactly causes mental illness. It’s not 100 percent known how anti-depressants work. What is known is these factors can affect anyone – mental illness does not discriminate. It doesn’t care what your socioeconomic background is. It’s not just “homeless people roaming on the streets”. It’s not just those who are in psychiatric facilities. It’s 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. It’s not an imaginary problem – it’s an epidemic. It’s a homemaker with two beautiful children and very supportive husband. Believe me, it’s someone you know.

Each year more than 44,965 Americans commit suicide, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. It’s the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. and costs our country $69 billion each year – the cost isn’t what bothers me, I just thought I’d throw it in there.

If we don’t start educating each other and talking about the repercussions of non-treatment of the mentally ill, we are failing our children and ourselves.

That’s what I have to be sad about.

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