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Mental Illness and the Brain

For most of history, individuals have believed that mental illness was the result of demons possessing the soul or mind of the person . In the last century, mental illness was thought to occur by way of psychic conflict. However, after the numerous technological advances in the last fifty years, the most widely accepted belief is that many forms of mental illness are the result of malfunctions within the brain. The purpose of this paper is to discuss some of the many ways that this can occur.

Mental Illness and the Brain

One of the most severe forms of mental illness is schizophrenic disorder. The symptoms of schizophrenia are the result of low levels of dopamine being produced in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is involved in the transmission of impulses. Anti-psychotic medications increase the levels of dopamine and the symptoms associated with schizophrenia are reduced. However, one of the difficulties with this process is that administering artificial dopamine may result in tremors or other movement problems.

Another neurotransmitter that is involved in several forms of mental illness is serotonin. Low levels of serotonin may result in many problematic behaviors. It can result in depression, insomnia, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive behaviors. The most effective medications are SSRIs or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Some common SSRIs are Prozac, Paxil, Celexa, and Zoloft. These work in a different way to increase levels of serotonin in the brain. When serotonin is released into the synaptic gap, a reuptake mechanism begins working which removes excess serotonin from the area. If this system works too quickly, then there is not enough serotonin in the brain to efficiently transmit impulses from neuron to neuron. The selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors work by inhibiting this reuptake mechanism, and consequently, there is more serotonin available so that these neural impulses will work more efficiently.

Another neurotransmitter is also believed to result in mental illness when it is not working properly. This is the neurotransmitter called norepinephrine. This neurotransmitter is believed to cause depression and certain kinds of eating disorders when there are not appropriate amounts of this particular substance. Individuals who suffer from bulimia sometimes have a reduction in their symptoms when they receive norepinephrine medications.

Sometimes mental illness is the result of brain damage. For example, children who have severe strep infections that results in an increase in the basal ganglia. These children often demonstrate obsessive-compulsive disorder. Unfortunately, when OCD is the result of brain damage, it is difficult to treat.

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