The Chemistry Of Depression – A Therapist Knows

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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. That’s 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 body’s 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:

  • Serotonin or the “feel good” neurotransmitters
  • Norepinephrine
  • Dopamine

These are only a few of many neurotransmitters that function as chemical messengers, so when there is a chemical imbalance in the brain, it will affect the way we think and feel.


History Of The Chemistry Of Depression – Norepinephrine

In the 1960s, a study was conducted and have found that depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain or deficiency of the neurotransmitter Norepinephrine in certain parts of the brain, and mania is developed because of this overabundance. There are pieces of evidence to back up this hypothesis, but not everyone is affected by this. Medications were made to target norepinephrine and are said to have worked in other people but not all.


Serotonin has been at the center stage for almost 30 years. A lot of studies have been conducted and have seen links to its role in mood disorders. The synaptic fall of serotonin levels or a chemical imbalance in the brain affects norepinephrine, thus adding to the cause of depression in people. Alex Korb, PhD, wrote, “Most antidepressant medications work by blocking serotonin-sucking proteins (i.e. the serotonin transporter), thereby increasing the amount of serotonin that can act on receptors.” Medications that target serotonin have become popular over the past two decades for serotonin could be manipulated to help raise levels of norepinephrine.

Newly developed medications are targeting both norepinephrine and serotonin levels in the brain but have side effects like an excellent taste, the sensitivity of the eyes t bright lights, constipation, blurry vision, urinary hesitancy, and others.


Dopamine is a chemical that is associated with the reward or reinforcement that gets daily activities done. Research has linked that abnormally low levels of dopamine or also a chemical imbalance in the brain are also a factor that causes depression. Medications that act like dopamine or help stimulate the production of dopamine helps in curing depression, but it’s not the case for some people.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is associated with addiction, and some medications that target dopamine have been abusively used. Addiction to these medications causes a chemical imbalance in the brain.

Processes That Might Lower Brain Neurotransmitter Levels

Since a chemical imbalance in the brain or lower levels of these neurotransmitters have been linked to the development of depression in a person, what are the causes of these low levels of neurotransmitters?

  • Not enough neurotransmitter is produced in the nerve cells
  • Not enough receptors to receive these neurotransmitters
  • Neurotransmitters are taken back too quickly
  • Some necessary chemicals have low supply
  • Specific enzymes that help in neurotransmitters have a small amount

Treating Depression From A Biochemical Standpoint

Understanding how a chemical imbalance in the brain or how these biochemicals affect our brain and understanding the chemistry of depression and how the two of them are connected can help us in treating depression. There are a lot of types of depression, and even though you have gone through a lot of psychotherapy and still can’t figure out why you are not getting better, maybe it’s time to think about the levels of neurotransmitters you have, and perhaps this is the reason for your depression. Mary de Groot, PhD, wrote, “Biochemically, there are many things that can impact mood. There are so many good, open questions about which mechanisms contribute the most to changes in depression.”

Depression – Not Just A Simple Change In Brain Chemistry

Depression is much more complicated than having a chemical imbalance in the brain or low levels of certain neurotransmitters in your brain. Up until now, there are still ongoing studies on the best way and the proper way of curing depression. There are yet no concrete answers, and we’re all working with what we have.

Not only neurotransmitters play a crucial role in having depression but also take note of genetics and childhood experiences. These can also be causes of depression. Not all have the same causes of depression, and curing depression is not as easy as injecting insulin to somebody with diabetes.

Bottom Line

A lot of factors can cause depression, and not everyone has the same. Understanding what causes our depression can help us understand why we need the kind of medication the doctor has given us. There are still little known facts, and healing this illness will take a long time. All you have to do is to understand yourself and listen to the doctor.

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