According to the National Institute of Mental Health, within any given year one out of every four American adults suffers from some type of mental disorder. Mental disorders like depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia are the result of chemical imbalances that take place within the brain. Methods to treat imbalances include medication and psychotherapy interventions.
The human body is a system designed to function at optimal levels when certain chemical levels are present. Any imbalance puts this system at risk of malfunctioning in one area or another. A chemical imbalance can happen as a result of poor nutrition, stress, or heredity. Chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters are responsible for regulating how the cells in the brain communicate with each other. This in turn effects body health, and function. Signs of imbalance can appear inside a person’s emotional make-up, mental capacity, or body metabolism.
There are as many as 50 known neurotransmitters present in the brain. Each one is responsible for regulating specific body processes. Dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine and GABA are just a few of the neurotransmitters directly related to mental health function. Specific amounts of each of these chemicals is needed to maintain a healthy emotional state. When a neurotransmitter level is too low or too high, it impairs the brain’s ability to coordinate the physical and emotional functions in the body. When chemical imbalances exist, mental disorders related to depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, and ADHD can result.
Mental health issues caused by chemical imbalances typically have corresponding physical symptoms as well. Changes in sleep patterns, appetite and energy levels, along with difficulty concentrating, are physical symptoms most commonly associated with depression and anxiety. The more “off-balance” a neurotransmitter level is, the more pronounced a mental disorder will be. Severe psychological disorders like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder are the result of significant neurotransmitter imbalances in the brain. Whether the cause be stress-related, hereditary or as a result of poor nutrition, the effect is still the same.
Treatments for chemical imbalances are based on the traditional medical model where ailments are considered symptoms of an imbalance within the body’s system. As such, medication therapies are used to restore normal neurotransmitter levels within the brain. And while this may appear to be a straight-forward solution, identifying which neurotransmitter is off-balance can be a difficult process. Clinicians typically prescribe a particular medication based on the information provided by the patient. As there are no inexpensive methods for pinpointing which neurotransmitter is at play, finding the right medication is often a trial and error process.
Chemical imbalances brought on by stress are the result of the mind’s response to a perceived threat. Stress factors which persist over a long period of time can adversely effect neurotransmitter levels. When physical symptoms occur, medication therapy may be necessary, however the source of the imbalance remains untreated. And while medication therapy has proven to be an effective treatment for emotional and mental distress, more oftentimes than not, how a person perceives a stressor lies at the root of an imbalance. In order to treat both aspects of a condition, a clinician may recommend psychotherapy treatment along with a prescribed medication.