Our mental health will guide all aspects of our health, yet we put so little focus into our mental health. Meaning, we typically do little in prevention of our mental health. We focus on our diet and exercise (which can for sure help our mental health but what are we doing specifically for our mental health?
According to the World Health Organization, the United States is considered one of the most depressed countries in the entire world; it ranks third, just behind India and China, second and first, respectively.
It's often said that depression results from a chemical imbalance, However, research suggests that depression is not simply from having too much or too little of certain brain chemicals. Yes, depression can include faulty mood regulation by the brain, but it can also be caused by our genetics and a stressful life event. All these things can be likened to depression; however, it is typically not just one thing that causes depression.
Depression is often linked to other things like anxiety and substance abuse. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), around 20 percent of those who have a mood disorder, like depression, will also have a substance use disorder.
When we talk about a chemical imbalance we are talking about Serotonin (mainly). This is a neurotransmitter that is heavily implicated in depression and anxiety. There is no evidence to prove that low serotonin levels directly is the cause for depression, but that low serotonin levels can contribute to depression. Serotonin is responsible for mood regulation. It can reduce feelings of depression and anxiety and increase feelings of joy or happiness. Serotonin not only plays a role in your mood it also helps to regulate sleep, bowel movements blood clotting, nausea, bone health and sex drive. Low serotonin levels can make it hard for your body to work properly.
Serotonin is composed of essential amino acid, mainly tryptophan, (We all know of tryptophan being in turkey and making us sleepy, same tryptophan). In order to help support serotonin levels it is important that your diet include serotine rich foods. Foods that contain serotonin are things like salmon, eggs, spinach, Turkey, and seeds, (Specifically walnuts and pecans).
Exercise is another great serotonin booster. When you exercise, your body uptakes certain amino acids for your muscles, which removes a lot of the competition that tryptophan faces on its way to your brain to get turned into serotonin.
Is there a genetic tendency to become depressed? Some studies have shown that If someone has a parent or sibling with major depression, that person probably has a 2- or 3-times greater risk of developing depression compared with the average person (or around 20-30% instead of 10%). Just because your family has a history of depression does not mean that you will, but there is an increased risk.
The big thing is to be aware of your mood and ways to help. The difficult thing about this is depression can sneak up on you. When you are depressed, you do lack interest in things. The though of exercise and eating right can be extremely daunting. It can be hard to even recognize that you are depressed. Doing our best to seek help when we are feeling down or depressed may be key. If you have a history of depression, consider having regular appointments with a counselor or therapist. Sometimes we may not even recognize our mood but those around us may. Be open to communication regarding your feelings and where we are mentally. Share how we are feeling and what we need. You do not have to suffer alone.
Working on being preventive regarding our mental health can be life changing. Staying on top of our mental health is just as important as our physical health. Let’s focus on making our mental health a priority by eating right, exercising and recognizing our risk factors that can contribute to our mood.
Mental Health America. (, 2020). Ranking the States. Retrieved from https://www.mhanational.org/issues/ranking-states
Anxiety and Depression Association of America. (2020). Substance Use Disorders. Retrieved from https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/related-illnesses/substance-abuse
Standford Medicine : Genetitcs of brain function (2023).(Major Depression and Genetics | Genetics of Brain Function | Stanford Medicine