Imagine you are asked to describe what depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or Bi Polar Disorder are. Would you say “mental health problems”, or similar? Most would, and there is a general perception that these problems are purely based in the mind. There is still something of an attitude that people with mental health and anxiety problems should be able to “snap out of it” or get over it, just like that. Yet many mental illnesses actually have physical reasons.
For example, clinical depression. A much-misused term, depression is now used to describe someone feeling a bit low. However, if someone has full, clinical depression, they will experience long periods of horrifically low mood, low motivation and a general feeling of emptiness. A cruel illness, but one that is described as being mental, and a regular target for the “pull yourself out of it!” brigade.
Yet depression does have a physical basis. Depression is caused by a lower-than-average amount of serotonin in the body. Also known as the “feel good” hormone, serotonin controls the mood, personality and feelings of an individual. If serotonin levels are low, the individual will experienced depressive, low thoughts. This is a physical problem with mental evidence, but it is physical nonetheless – anti-depressants work on increasing serotonin levels, and tend to have a decent success rate.
Furthermore, preliminary scans have shown those with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder have enlarged lobes at the front of the brain. These lobes control our worry and anxiety mechanism, and when enlarged, the anxiety goes into overdrive – resulting in what we know as OCD.
So these mental illnesses are, more often than not, physical in basis after all – and one can no more “shake off” or “get over” a hormone imbalance than one can “shake off” a broken leg!