Understanding the science behind mental illness is a huge passion of mine. Past G.C.S.E Biology & Chemistry I’ve never really re-studied any form science so needless to say when I began researching why antidepressants (in particular SSRI’s such as Citalopram, Sertraline, Fluoxetine, etc) made my condition worse, even the pretty coloured diagrams were way above my level of digestion ability.
Yet with a record number of people in the U.K and beyond now prescribed these ‘Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors’ and without a simple explanation for how these work for the vast majority of those taking them, I took it on myself to delve into this world of brain chemistry and attempted to break it down into something myself, and now hopefully others too can understand. The next time someone wants to poke at the ‘idea’ that your depression doesn’t exist – send them this way to decode the science behind it.
So, let’s get down to it.
In a ‘normally’ working brain this flower represents your thoughts, feelings and thus connected behaviours working in an healthy manner.
For our flower to thrive it needs water – in this case raindrops. Here the raindrops represent Serotonin – one of the neurotransmitters in your brain responsible for making you feel good. Along side other neurotransmitters, too little can lead to a depressed and low mood.
Serotonin is released by one nerve (the presynaptic) and collected to another (the post synaptic) which then delivers it to where it needs to be. In our example the rain is released by the cloud (presynaptic) and collected by the ground (postsynaptic)…
… which in turn delivers it to our flowers roots. Still pretty simple, yup?
Here’s where it gets complicated…
Serotonin release and REUPTAKE is a cycle.
So now to demonstrate that, we’ve got the sun, evaporating some of that rain water back up into clouds, before the flower can make use of it this time – but our droplets are back up there ready to be used again.
In the mind of someone who is suffering with depression it is thought that the REUPTAKE of serotonin is happening too fast/too strongly and therefore the brain is not receiving the amount of ‘happy chemicals’ it needs to thrive. It’s a bit like if our sun here was working too hard and zapping a lot of those raindrops back up into clouds before they have time to water our flower.
SO, ANTIDEPRESSANTS, SPECIFICALLY SSRI’S, AKA SEROTONIN REUPTAKE INHIBITORS DO WHAT?
(If I’m explaining this as good as it looks in my own head, I hope you’re following and can guess…)
SSRI’s work by inhibiting the reuptake of serotonin back to your presynaptic nerve so that your postsynaptic nerve can make use of the Serotonin – or – in our analogy – it prevents the sun evaporating the water droplets back to the clouds before our ground can send them to our flower to use them.
Antidepressants are in no way a ‘magic wand’ or miracle cure. They work better for some people than others and can actually make some patients – like myself – much worse. Although it’s only the first step in understanding my own condition, I really hope my analogy of how your medication might work has helped some of you understand how your illness takes place in your brain, due to chemicals, just like cells do in any other illnesses. Your depression is no less real because other people don’t understand it yet. Heck, we don’t even understand it ourselves!?
*DISCLAIMER* – I am not a scientist, doctor or at all medically qualified – just an ‘ordinary’ girl, with messed up brain chemistry and an obsession for analogies who wants the world to come to terms with mental health being just as important as physical health.
Head Meds pt2- antipsychotics – coming soon!