The human brain is a complex organ which sends and receives signals from all over the body to guide various sensory and motor functions. These signals are transmitted by chemicals referred to as neurotransmitters. One of the most important hypothesis is that imbalance of these neurotransmitters can lead to mental illness. The term ‘chemical imbalance’ was first coined from the study of brain chemistry in 1965, by a scientist Joseph Schildkraudt.
Subsequently, various studies have been conducted which have linked schizophrenia (a psychiatric disorder) to the increased activity of dopamine (a neurotransmitter). This hypothesis is the major focus of research for 25 years to explain the influence of chemical imbalance on psychiatric and mental disorders.
While there is considerable opposition to this hypothesis of ‘chemical imbalance leading to mental disorders’, there is no superior hypothesis that is available at this time to explain the phenomenon of mental disorders.
What Happens When You Have A Chemical Imbalance?
The term ‘chemical imbalance’ is a broad and generic term which tries to simplify the complex and multi-factorial nature of mental ailments. There are various studies which have been conducted to explain the role of specific neurotransmitters (chemicals) on specific mental ailments which include,
- Monoamine hypothesis is a theory which states that depression is linked with under activity of certain monoamines including serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine.
- Dopamine hypothesis states that malfunctioning of dopamine pathways is responsible for the symptoms of schizophrenia. Further studies have shown that serotonin also influences the way dopamine affects the pathways.
What Causes Chemical Imbalance In The Brain?
Unfortunately there is little evidence about the validity of the chemical imbalance theory and its influence on mental disorders. While theoretically there are certain causes that have been identified, there is limited explanation regarding the mechanism of how these causes can lead to chemical imbalance.
- Increased or decreased production of neurotransmitters: Deficiencies of certain kind may alter the production of certain neurotransmitters.
- Increase or decrease of neurotransmitter release: It is believed that smoking, alcohol or illicit drugs can interfere and alter the production of certain neurotransmitters.
- Receptor deletion or addition, which can lead to increased or decreased sensitivity to the neurotransmitters.
In addition certain factors like stress, mental trauma, etc have been linked to negative thoughts which in turn can also influence how certain neurotransmitters behave.
Signs And Symptoms Of Chemical Imbalance
The symptoms associated with chemical imbalance specifically depend upon the neurotransmitter that is involved and the specific function performed by the neurotransmitter. In addition symptoms may vary depending upon the age, overall health status and social support system available for the individual. However some of the generic symptoms linked with chemical imbalance include,
- Audio and Visual hallucinations: This is the most important symptom indicative of chemical imbalance. The individual may claim to hear or see visions that don’t exist in reality, but are based on the individual subconscious fears.
- Depression: Depression is another symptom that is linked with chemical imbalance. Depression is characterized by feeling gloomy with loss of interest in activities that once were considered interesting. Depression is also characterized by low levels of energy and tiredness.
- Suicidal or Homicidal tendencies: Typically, chemical imbalance in the brain can lead to thoughts or acts that can harm the patient himself or others around him.
- Other common symptoms associated with chemical imbalances include insomnia, inability to concentrate, irritability, anger, mood swings, etc.