Is a Chemical Imbalance a Cause of Depression?
by Angela Charles
Depression is an illness that consists of feelings of hopelessness, changes in appetite and sleeping habits, loss of interest in activities once found pleasurable and sometimes even a desire to commit suicide. There are various causes that contribute to depressive symptoms, including stressful life circumstances, loss of a loved one, certain medical conditions, hormonal changes and chemical imbalances in the brain.
Neurotransmitters are chemicals in the brain that help brain cells communicate with one another. When these neurotransmitters are not at the right levels, the body reacts in various ways, sometimes leading to depression.
People suffering from depression may have low levels of a neurotransmitter called serotonin. Serotonin helps regulate mood, appetite and body temperature. Antidepressant medications such as Paxil, Prozac and Lexapro are called Selective Seritonin Reuptake Inhibitors, or SSRIs. SSRIs can be taken to increase serotonin in the brain and help regulate mood.
Norepinephrine is another neurotransmitter in the brain that has been associated with anxiety and depression. Low levels of norepinephrine may trigger feelings of panic, raise blood pressure and lead to symptoms of depression.
Another neurotransmitter associated with depression is dopamine. Dopamine affects how people view reality, and low levels can lead to a type of depression known as psychotic depression. Psychotic depression involves hallucinations and delusions in addition to more typical depressive symptoms.
Hormonal imbalances have also been associated with depression. Melatonin, a hormone that regulates the sleep cycle, seems to play a part in seasonal affective disorder, also known as SAD. Additionally, women who are going through menopause may experience depression as a result of hormonal changes as do some women who have just given birth (postpartum depression).