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The Science Behind Mental Illness

By: Shaila Anjum

I feel this is a very important topic to talk about. Many people are either misinformed or do not have enough information to begin with regarding medication for mental illnesses. In severe cases where memory is affected, medication does help rebalance these hormones, which over a long period of time does help neuron productivity, connection, and memory functions. Sometimes people are skeptical because they expect immediate, tangible results to support its effectiveness, when that’s not always the case. Some cases of mental illness do go over-diagnosed, and medication for these instances may lead to an overall negative outlook on medication.

Neuron Activity

diagram of neuron activity

The above diagram from the NIH Curriculum Supplement Series: Information About Mental Illness and the Brain illustrates a typical neuron where incoming information is received through its axons and outgoing information is delivered through its dendrites (Mental Illness and the Brain, 2007). When one neuron exchanges information from another neuron, its dendrites and axons engage in a synapse (Mental Illness and the Brain, 2007). A synapse is simply a space between two neurons where information (neurotransmitters) are transferred – information sometimes being hormonal production (Mental Illness and the Brain, 2007).

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter which scientists have found to be depleted in individuals with depression (Mental Illness and the Brain, 2007).

Depletion in neurotransmitters such as dopamine, norepinephrine and glutamate has been found in individuals with schizophrenia (Mental Illness and the Brain, 2007).


A part from depression, stress, and anxiety are also known to play a role in memory function (Cohut, 2019). A degree of memory impairment is completely normal if it’s due to aging or other natural causes. However, the rate of short-term memory loss can quickly escalate to abnormal when accompanied by a mental illness, including but not limited to: depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and borderline personality disorder (MacGill, 2019). Dr. Shelton’s team from the Psychology Department of Brigham Young University conducted research on memory function and depression, finding individuals with severe depression showed significant difficulty in remembering objects they had previously seen, in comparison to the control group (Shelton et al., 2013).

Medicinal Effect

Dr. Sibille and colleagues have made a compound that binds to the GABA neurotransmitter system in the brain, which is largely linked to memory loss and other depleted brain functionalities caused as a side effect of mental health problems (Prevot et al., 2019). This compound has been shown to assist in the regeneration of molecules in the brain, thus repairing brain functionalities like memory loss (Prevot et al., 2019). Though this compound is the first of its kind, there are several other compounds available today that help repair damages caused by chronic mental illnesses. Do you know where you can find these compounds? In medication! Medication has compounds that bind to neurotransmitters in the brain to alter brain functionality slowly. Altering brain chemistry in an attempt to repair brain damage takes time!

The science says medication helps. Without scientific evidence, psychiatrists would not be medicating. There is already a shortage of service and funding for government provided mental health practices and no shortage of overpriced private practices. With the economy being at a disadvantage to begin with, adequately assessing the effect of mental health on someone's physical brain is difficult. Hopefully, as a community we can one day come together and work toward a stronger protocol to help individuals gain access to effective medication and help psychiatrists get the tools they need for proper diagnoses.


Cohut, M. (2019). Can these new compounds treat memory loss in depression? Retrieved from

MacGill, M. (2019). How does bipolar disorder affect memory? Retrieved from

Prevot, T., Li, G., Vidojevic, A., Misquitta, K., Fee, C., Santrac, A., . . . Sibille, E. (2019). Novel Benzodiazepine-Like Ligands with Various Anxiolytic, Antidepressant, or Pro-Cognitive Profiles. Molecular Neuropsychiatry,5(2), 84-97. doi:10.1159/000496086

Shelton, D. J., & Kirwan, C. B. (2013). A possible negative influence of depression on the ability to overcome memory interference. Behavioural Brain Research,256, 20-26. doi:10.1016/j.bbr.2013.08.016

National Institutes of Health (US); Biological Sciences Curriculum Study. NIH Curriculum Supplement Series [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): National Institutes of Health (US); 2007. Information about Mental Illness and the Brain. Available from:

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