The Biology of Mental Illnesses A behind the scenes look on depression and the formation of mental illnesses

Each summer when I was younger my family used to drive down to Pleasant Valley, West Virginia to visit my parents friends for a few days. When I was little, I would look out the window when we drive through the neighborhoods and make up stories about the happy lives that I thought the people had in their nice little houses in Pleasant Valley.

The house with the big porch would have 4 corgie puppies and the dad would play the guitar for the little kids at night. The big beige house with the intricate stone wall in front was chock full of art that the parents painted when they had time away from their jobs of teaching at the elementary school. And the house with the big front yard would have parties and be filled with people when their kids came home from college in the summer. Of course, this was only my imagination, and I actually knew nothing about what happened behind the stone wall, and in the big yard, and on the front porch.

As I grew older, and our trips to West Virginia became less frequent, the happy little imaginary people grew up and began to fade away. About a week ago or so, I was forced to research about mental health in English class, and stumbled upon some disheartening statistics that revived the imaginary families in Pleasant Valley. I came across an article that stated that people in West Virginia get prescribes more than 20 drugs each year. It is one of the states with the most mental illnesses in America. (Huffington Post) Of course I’m more grown up now. I’ve stopped listening to One Direction and wearing purple crocs, and I’ve came to the realization that those families in West Virginia probably do not lead those happy lives that I’d imagined they did when I was younger.

Younger people tend to be more open and optimistic. That is not the case for me anymore.

In reality, the dad who played the guitar probably takes 3 pills every morning to combat his depression. And the husband and wife elementary school teachers most likely go to rehab for a drinking or drug abuse problem. And the college kids never actually come home to their big yard because of their stress and anxiety that school puts on them. This thought of growing up and changing ideologies to reality intrigued me. I began to become more curious about my topic the more research I did, and I became very interested in the topic of the development of mental health (in students), and the most effective form of treatment for those who suffer from it.

My mom's job is a chef, my dad's job is a pilot, and my job is to be a student. As a relatively observant person, I’ve noticed a substantial amount of my peers stay up past 12 o’clock doing homework, and struggle to manage sports, school, and a social life. Especially in the town we live in, there is a particular emphasis on almost every student to get into ivies and start worrying about college in middle school. This excess amount of pressure students have to endure causes an accumulation of stress, and if it is not handled properly, there is a probable chance of developing a mental illness.

"there is a particular emphasis on almost every student to get into Ivies and start worrying about college in middle school"

Anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, insomnia, ADHD, and schizophrenia are all common mental illnesses amongst my peers and people around my age both domestically and continentally. Yes, students should care about their grades, but there is no need for them to obsess and constantly worry and check them.

In the past few days coming back to school after break, I have noticed my circadian rhythm has been abnormal, and I have not been able to fall asleep, and when I do, I always wake up in the middle of the night. For the past 4 days, I’ve gotten 6 or less hours of sleep each night. That is only 60% of the sleep recommended for children my age. I have been given a large amount of work in every class since I’ve been back, and balancing the workload of school with midterms coming up and crew is difficult. I do not think I am developing a mental illness, but now I see and can relate to the toll stress has on your body.

Not getting enough sleep not only affects your mood, but also can cause sickness.

Coming into class and being assigned mental illness, I knew practically nothing besides stereotypes and minimal facts. Being unsure how mental illnesses and disorders develop, I could not make justified conclusions about 20% of the people of all ages in America (department of health and human services). I was very curious on just what exactly causes mental illnesses and why they were so common, so I turned to science for the answer. Looking at depression in particular, I found out the cause was a malfunction between neurotransmitters and receptors in the brain. The cause of the malfunction was a change in the environment around the cell, such as amount of sleep, stress, and nutrition. This change causes genes to turn on or off the production of specific proteins, which therefore makes it unable to function properly. This unsuccessful transmission of signals from the brain affects important hormones such as serotonin, glutamate, and dopamine (department of health and human services). This inability and alteration in production of these crucial neurotransmitters leads to mental illnesses.

The human brain is where mental illnesses develop, and it can be very difficult to undo the damage.

The high number of my peers with mental illnesses slightly concerned me, so I set out to find the most effective form of treatment for depression in particular. I found the most common form of treatment is prescription pills called SSRI’s. These pills increase the levels of serotonin in the brain. They do this by blocking the reabsorption of serotonin, which leads to a greater increase of serotonin available(department of health and human services). Many people turn to pills rather than therapy because it can be less expensive.

A less common treatment for depression is psychotherapy or counseling. Talking to a therapist is an effective approach to find the roots of what triggers depression in the individual, and can help them find ways to get better. Lifestyle changes can actually aid to lift depression off an individual and prevent it from happening again if continued regularly. Changes such as an increase in exercise can greatly benefit people with depression. Regular exercise boosts serotonin and endorphins in the brain, and increases the growth of new brain cells and connections between them. Exercise is not the only life style change though. A very influential factor of depression is sleep. This may be the main reason why so many high school and college students develop depression. Homework causes excess stress on students, and often causes them to stay up unreasonably late. Lack of sleep increases symptoms of depression. It is quite a vicious cycle that doesn’t exactly have an end. Adults suffer from lack of sleep as much or more than students. I feel as though lack of sleep has developed as a trend in society. Everyone is working more and later, and they do not balance work and relaxation. This has became a norm in society, and in my opinion it is not healthy, and has caused an increase in the development of mental illnesses amongst Americans. (Saison, Smith, Segal).

Exercise is very beneficial to people with depression because it boosts levels of serotonin.

After excessive amounts of research over the past few weeks, I can justifiably conclude that there is an excessive amount of stress put on students, and combined with lack of sleep, the chance of developing a mental illness is greatly increased. I now know that 1 in 5 people in America suffers from a mental illness, and that there is more than just one way to effectively treat it. I have discovered the science behind exactly how mental illnesses develop in the brain, and how SSR pills help boost serotonin levels. I have learned the benefits that regular exercise and a full night's sleep has on people with depression. And I now know how and why so many people of my age develop mental illnesses induced by school. After exploring many websites, videos, and a book, I can conclude that the pace of life has been on a steady increase. People are working more and sleeping less, and this is causing one fifth of all people to have a mental illness. This is not healthy, and can be, and should be put to an end.


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