The human brain is an intensely complex space. For years, scientists have been studying the workings of the brain at the psychological level – the thoughts and feelings the brain produces – and a chemical level – the structures and neurotransmitters that led to those thoughts.
For several decades now, scientists have understood the cause of depression to be low levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin. But a review of past research published last month has introduced the hypothesis that this may not always be the case, potentially changing the way we treat depression.
Understanding the Link Between Neurotransmitters and Low Mood
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that results in feelings of happiness and contentment. When triggered, your brain will release serotonin, causing feelings of happiness. It will then reuptake that serotonin, or remove, it causing the feeling to fade.
With this understanding of serotonin, it can make sense that a brain that has less serotonin on average is more likely to experience depression and low moods. One of the leading treatments for depression today is Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, or SSRIs. These are designed to prevent the brain from reabsorbing serotonin, increasing the overall amount of serotonin and subsequent feelings of happiness that a person experiences.
Over the decades in which psychiatrists have prescribed SSRIs, they have generally had extremely good results with the majority of people who take them experiencing a reduction or complete elimination of depression symptoms. This makes the new findings on serotonin and depression particularly interesting:
- Serotonin levels are often similar in people with and without depression.
- Studies that have purposely lowered serotonin levels have not resulted in increased rates of depression.
- Depression is likely more complex than a chemical imbalance in the brain.
- Using medication in combination with other treatment methods is likely to be more successful than medication alone.
Despite this new information, SSRIs have a long history of being effective and will continue to work. Instead, this study is a good indicator that more research is necessary to understand the link between serotonin and depression, and the effect that SSRIs and other depression medications have on mental well-being.
If you are suffering from depression and are interested in medication, Aware Behavioral Health works with patients in the Dallas Fort Worth area and can create a personalized medication and treatment plan to help you manage the effects of depression. Reach out to our team to learn more.