Brain Chemistry and Mental Health: Key Facts

Mental health is a direct result of brain function, which governs our behavior, feelings and thinking. Whether we are happy, sad, depressed or living with an addiction, our brain chemistry is a root cause of how we feel, behave and identify ourselves as individuals. So how exactly does the brain affect our mental health?


The brain is full of neurochemicals—organic molecules that participate in neural activity—that are responsible for our thoughts, feelings and actions. Neurochemicals like serotonin, a feel-good chemical, can alter our mood levels depending on how much of that chemical is released into the brain and body. When there isn’t enough serotonin released, a person’s mood goes down, which can lead to depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses.

Drugs and Brain Chemicals

Mental illness or poor mental health can lead to drug abuse, and drug abuse can alternatively cause mental illness. Adolescents are particularly at risk of developing mental illness and substance dependencies because their brains are not yet fully developed and they are more impulsive than adults. As such, their brains are more vulnerable to negative change and irregular development.


child adult handsImage Credit: Vitalinka / Shutterstock

A person with a family history of mental illness is more likely to develop, or be born with, that illness. Researchers believe the illness is developed by the interaction of several genes that were passed down from parents. For example, anxiety disorder—one of the most common mental illnesses in America—runs in families. This means that if a grandparent or parent has a hyperactive brain in specific regions that cause anxiety, their children and grandchildren are likely to share these qualities.

Trauma and Environmental Factors

Mental illness can also be caused by early childhood trauma. Trauma causes genes to be expressed in a different way than they would if trauma was not experienced, according to new research. Specifically, early childhood experiences will determine a person’s response to stress. Genetics clearly play a role in this, since we cannot get rid of the genes we are born with. However, the environment in which a child is raised and their early experiences can alter brain development and subsequently have an affect on development or increase one’s risk of having a mental illness.

We are sometimes born with conditions that hinder or alter our mental health and mental capabilities. But the brain is a very complex and advanced part of the human body that can learn new behaviors, express new feelings and help us overcome our hindrances. Different types of therapy, including cognitive behavioral therapy, art and music therapy and meditation are all accessible ways to ease the mind and improve our mental health and overall well-being.

Feature Image: Kalvicio de las Nieves