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Mental Illness or Brain Chemistry?



I’ve never really thought of myself as having a mental illness. Maybe it’s because depression been part of my life for as long as I can remember.


But when I think about it, having a bout of depression is like having a cold. Sometimes I’m down for the count. I don’t feel well, and I just have to wait out the symptoms.


But sometimes, actually most of the time, medication keeps me well.


“I am out with lanterns, looking for myself.” ― Emily Dickinson

What does it mean to suffer from mental illness, or to have a mental illness? Is it a chronic illness? Are you crazy? Is it just like any other illness?


According to the monoamine-deficiency theory, depression is caused by a depletion of serotonin, norepinephrine, or dopamine in the central nervous system. But current research suggests that depression doesn't result from having too much or too little of certain brain chemicals.


There are many other theories about what causes depression, including a learned response to negative experiences, negative interpersonal relationships, genetics, substance abuse, early childhood experiences, major life events, faulty mood regulation by the brain, stressful life events, personality, family history, pregnancy and childbirth, menopause, loneliness, and illness.


The truth is, science really hasn't answered the question.


It's likely that depression is the result of a combination of factors that's highly individual to each person. In fact, each person's depression is individualized.


So back to the question of mental illness: It feels like a lot to say I have a mental illness. But am I doing myself a disservice by avoiding the label? Perhaps I should be an advocate for mental health, and whether I suffer from mental illness or not, I believe we all should advocate for wellness.


I have more questions than I have answers. But one thing I know is that depression is part of my journey, and whether I'm well today or ill, it continues to be my companion.

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