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Depression is More Than a Chemical Imbalance

Karen Francis's picture
Depression Treatment

The onset of depression is far more complex than a chemical imbalance. If depression could be cured by improving an imbalance, there would be a much higher success rate for the current antidepressant medications on the market today. Antidepressant medications are ineffective for about 50% of patients.


Research suggests that mood only improves when there is new nerve cell growth and formation of new connections and pathways - a process that takes weeks. This could be why it takes several weeks to notice an improvement in mood while being treated with today’s most popular antidepressants.

Brain chemicals (neurotransmitters), neuron connections, cell growth, and the functioning of circuits in our brains all have an impact on depression. There are millions of chemical reactions that impact our mood, our memory and how we respond mentally and physically to a stressful situation.

Because everything we ingest, every situation we find ourselves in cause a different emotional response, any imbalance in the chemicals associated with mood set off other reactions in various parts of the brain and body.
Correlation does not mean causation. We know that with certain antidepressant medications we can boost the level of the neurotransmitters that affect our mood. We also need to consider a person’s history, their environment, past and current events and situations, understand medical history, family history and their typical behaviors to effectively treat depression.

Depression has many different causes and may not be one individual element that needs to be addressed for an effective treatment:

Life Events

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Stress can be acute or chronic. Having a flat tire may make you sad but you change the tire and life returns to normal so you managed that stress with a relatively simple solution. When you are living with a chronically stressful situation such as caring for a loved one with a terminal illness, the situation may not change and may gradually become more stressful. If you receive grief counseling during this situation, you may find that you are better able to manage your emotional response as you prepare yourself for the worst. The environment and socio-economic situation all contribute to how you respond to life events.


Research and studies have suggested that if you may be more susceptible to depression if have relatives who have been diagnosed with depression or other mental illness. This does not mean that you are destined to live with chronic clinical depression. Being aware of your family history can help you though in your discussions about treatment with your doctor. Genetics may also play a role in how your brain and body respond to treatment.

Other illness and the treatment of that illness

Physical and mental illness can predispose someone to depression. The illness itself causes changes within the brain and body, we take medications which may further change our chemistry, depending on how incapacitating the illness, a person’s social environment, physical environment and abilities may be affected.

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Everyone is different and it is often a combination of factors that bring on depression. Just as the reasons and contributing factors are different for everyone, treatment of their depression should consist of a combination of treatment. Understanding the depression can help you to talk to your doctor about finding the right treatment.