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Depression and other mental health issues

Mental illness is difficult to define, and there are different ideas about its causes. One theory is that its roots are organic (i.e., due to abnormal functioning in the brain) and that chemical imbalances in the brain lead to mental disorders.

Another theory is that it stems from a difficult social environment or from “faulty” learning experiences that have led to inappropriate or unusual behavior. Such behavior may be viewed as a sign of mental illness.

Actually, the above factors overlap and interact. Organically rooted mental illness may lead to inappropriate behavior, and unusual behavior may lead to changes in brain chemistry. Mental illness is thus not cut-and-dried; rather, it encompasses a broad range of conditions, interpretations, and behaviors. For this reason, it is viewed differently from physical illness, where symptoms can often be related to a cause and a standard treatment can be prescribed.

Today, many mental health practitioners regard mental illness as a result of both nature and nurture. A person is considered to be suffering from a major mental illness if they have developed a lifestyle that seriously impedes their ability to function in their day-to-day activities.

We all feel “depressed” from time to time. It is such a common experience that we all have everyday ways of describing how it feels: sad, blue, down, bummed out, etc. However when these feelings become prolonged or very deep and affect the way a person eats and sleeps, the way they feel about themselves, and the way they think about things, this is a depressive disorder. This is not the same as a passing blue mood. It is not a sign of personal weakness or a condition that can be willed or wished away. People with a depressive illness cannot merely “pull themselves together” and get better.