How mental health affects the brain

Now more than ever we have great insight of the relationship between our brain’s chemistry in our Mental Health. While we may not understand the full picture, we may partially understand certain chemicals that may lead or contribute to us behaving in certain ways. As this may be a deep and intricate topic, I’d love to dive in deeper below. 

The brain itself

The brain, while all-powerful, is still fragile. Many things in life that causes stress can potentially trigger chemical changes within the brain and ultimately affect how our brains work. Some of these can include injury, physical and emotional trauma, abuse, exposure to violence, loneliness, and even lack of sleep. When the brain undergoes any of these chemical changes, our mood, feelings, and brain itself changes.

It has been shown that during the times of physical and mental stress, the adrenal glands produce excessive levels of cortisol, with some of it ending up in the brain. High levels of cortisol can often change your brain chemistry, sometimes triggering symptoms of depression. Just as an excess amount of cortisol can be detrimental, an underwhelmingly low amount of other chemicals within the brain can cause similar disruptions.

Neurotransmitters and the Brain

There are some components of the brain that scientists have focused more on  and found some correlation to Mental Health disorders. View their names, brief overview, and their ties below.

  • Dopamine is a key component of the brain’s motivational system and is involved in human behaviors including desire, craving, pleasure, lactation, and sexual arousal. Many forms of drugs and alcohol cause the brain to release excess amounts of dopamine, leading to a short-lived “high,” or euphoric sensation.
  • Serotonin is involved in human behaviors like thinking, learning, remembering, and controlling moods and emotions. For individuals struggling with depression and other mental health challenges, doctors commonly prescribe antidepressant medications that alter the levels of serotonin in the brain to help stabilize moods.
  • Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is an “inhibitory” neurotransmitter that slows down activity in the brain and body. For this reason, GABA is widely considered to alleviate or temporarily improve mental health challenges linked to stress, anxiety, and trauma. Some foods, including soy sauce and kimchi, also contain this chemical.
  • Norepinephrine is a neurotransmitter that is most commonly present in the body during stressful or high-intensity moments when the body needs to react quickly and forcefully. This neurotransmitter puts the body on “high alert” by raising heart rate and blood pressure and activating muscles.

Though it’s difficult to say with absolute certainty what is the leading cause of mental illness, researchers have started to find leads and patterns to direct them toward solutions. if you  would like to discuss mental illness solutions, feel free to comment below or contact me directly through my contact page.

Resources: Stoneridge “How Mental Illness Affects the Brain”

Nature’s Best “How Does mental health affect the brain?”

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