Understanding Brain Chemistry and Personalizing Treatment
Increasingly, scientific researchers are identifying changes in the brains of depressed individuals that suggest depression may be a neurological disorder with psychiatric symptoms. Neuroscience training may be able to help diagnosticians who are looking for resource information about depression and other mental disorders.
Mental Illnesses That May Have Neurological Components
A number of mental illnesses and psychiatric conditions may have neurological components. These include:
• Schizophrenia: Schizophrenia is a mental illness characterized by thoughts and perceptions that distort reality. While the precise causes of schizophrenia are not known, many researchers believe that the condition is due to a chemical disorder in the brain that may be related to dopamine mediation.
• Bipolar disorder: Bipolar disorder is a mental disorder in which affected individuals cycle through alternating periods of elation and depression. As with schizophrenia, the exact causes of the condition are not known, but bipolar individuals seem to have imbalances of the neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine and acetylcholine. Their bodies may also produce too much cortisol, the hormone implicated in the fight/flight response.
• Post-traumatic stress disorder: Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) occurs in the aftermath of an intensely disturbing experience. Some scientists believe that such an experience may cause permanent changes in brain chemistry that are related to serotonin depletion and the overproduction of the stress hormones norepinephrine and epinephrine.
• Depression: Depression is an intense feeling of sadness that persists over time. Scientists believe that depression is related to abnormally low levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, and many antidepressant medications function by balancing the levels of those neurotransmitters.
Neuroscience and the Treatment of Psychiatric Conditions
Science has come a long way in the last quarter of a century. Improvements in imaging technology now make it possible to identify exactly which parts of the brain may be activated when someone who has been diagnosed with a psychiatric condition is having an acute episode of illness. Such innovative new diagnostic methods should make it possible to develop treatments that are more specific and have fewer hazardous side effects. In the future, health care providers may be able to use a far more individualized approach for psychiatric treatment, and this approach will be based on a patient’s precise brain chemistry.