Bell’s “Let’s Talk” day happened on January 28, 2021. Because of events and movements like this, important conversations surrounding mental health have been igniting across the country. These discussions piqued my curiosity and I felt the urge to learn more about mental illnesses and how they are treated.
Mental health illnesses can be among the most difficult medical concerns to address, due to the nature of their symptoms which are often internal and linked to patient feelings. Furthermore, mental illnesses stem from the most complex organ in the human body: the brain. Thus, the research and development of new treatment has often been slow.
In this post, I will be talking about anti-depressants and their effects on the human body.
What are Anti-Depressants
A wide range of medications can be categorized as antidepressants :
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
- Blocks the reuptake process of serotonin, thus making the “happiness hormone” more available.
- Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
- Atypical antidepressants
- Refers to all medications that don’t fit into other categories.
- Tricylic antidepressant
- Affects both norepinephrine and serotonin by blocking the reuptake of these neurotransmitters. They may also impact other neurotransmitters causing potential side effects.
- Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
- One of the first antidepressants ever created that works by blocking monoamine oxidase. Monoamine oxidase removes these “feel-good” neurotransmitters.
These medications change chemicals (neurotransmitters) in the brain that affect one’s feelings. More specifically, these drugs improve monoamine neurotransmission (referring to different neurotransmitters like dopamine which help to regulate emotions). Antidepressants see use in treating depression in adults by increasing levels of these “good” neurotransmitters. They may also help to cure other mental health conditions and chronic pain. It is common to pair antidepressants with other forms of treatment like therapy.
However, it is important to note that depression is more than just an imbalance of chemicals in the brain. Biological, psychological, and other factors also play a role in the disease.
What Causes Depression?
Though this article explains the effect of antidepressant medications, depression is more than just chemical imbalances. The disease is often an amalgamation of different lifestyle choices, genetic factors, medications and stressful events.
For example, one meta-analysis that looked at 12 studies, found that sedentary behaviours that did not stimulate participants mentally (ie: watching the TV), increased the risk of depression.
Another study about the depressive side-effects of medication finds that medications like barbiturates, vigabatrin and others, can increase the risk for depression. They highlight that medications that increase the risk of depression can do so by affecting neurotransmitter levels. Or they can do so indirectly by affecting energy and appetite which may lead to negative moods.
Research around genetic correlations to depression has been indeterminate at best. With studies struggling to control variables and finding large enough sample sizes, results tend to vary. At this point, the argument that genetics is a major cause of depression is up to debate.
What are Monoamine Neurotransmitters?
Though monoamine neurotransmitters is a mouthful to say, it is comparatively easy to define their meaning. This term refers to specific neurotransmitters like dopamine, noradrenaline and serotonin. Medications like SSRIs and SNRIs both affect the neurotransmitter serotonin.
What are Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)?
SSRIs are commonly prescribed due to their limited side effects compared to other types of antidepressants. SSRIs work by increasing the amount of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a hormone that not only helps our cells communicate with each other, but also makes us feel happy and reduces depression symptoms. However, some have debated whether low levels of serotonin actually leads to depression or if it was just due to the greed of the pharmaceutical industry to promote SSRIs.
How do SSRIs Work?
After serotonin has transported its message, SSRI blocks the re-absorption of the hormone, increasing the amount of serotonin available. This increased serotonin is said to alleviate symptoms of depression. SSRIs are “selective” because they primarily affect the hormone serotonin and not the other neurotransmitters.
As with any disease, one should not rely on self-diagnose alone. Since this post isn’t a replacement for the advice of a physician, if you are struggling with your mental health, consider going to a professional who can advise you of different treatment plans like therapy or even medications.