The Inseparability of Environment and Biochemistry in Mental Health

Julie Hersh is the author of Struck by Living, in which she deals honestly and openly with her struggles with depression. After publishing the book, she toured and spoke about her work. During talks, attendees frequently asked whether Hersh attributes her depression to biochemistry or environment. But Hersh points out that the line between these factors is blurred. After all, every thought and reaction to our environment causes a chemical and electrical reaction in the brain. In a sense, biochemistry is a result of environment, and the two remain virtually inseparable in terms of mental health.

To handle her depression, Julie Hersh relies on a personal system that allows her to control both biochemistry and environment. She takes an antidepressant to manage biochemical issues but also emphasizes the role that stress reduction, exercise, and sleep have played in achieving mental stability. For mental health, individuals must realize that effective treatment addresses the problem from all perspectives, not just one. To that end, treatment must be individually tailored to each person’s own biochemistry and environment.

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Rethinking the Stigma around Taking Mental Health Medications

A mental health advocate, speaker, and author, Julie Hersh often relays the story of why she rejected medication against her psychiatrist’s direction. Despite a life-threatening episode with depression in 2001 that required electroconvulsive therapy(ECT)for treatment, four years of good health convinced her she no longer needed an antidepressant. Hersh, like so many who suffer from chronic illness, did not want to think in terms of lifelong depression management, but rather in terms of a cure. Furthermore, she thought she had modified her behavior and conquered the disease. Unfortunately, Ms. Hersh relapsed two years later, in such an intense manner that she required hospitalization.

Too often, individuals reject medication because they see mental illness as a defect of character as opposed to an functional issue with the brain. Various forms of psychotherapy can assist people in overcoming depression, but there will be a segment of the population who can reach the optimum level of health with the assistance of medication as well. Instead of condemning those who take medication as weak in character, we should think of medication as a tool to create the best mental environment. Think of plants: some need a dry, sunny climate, while others grow best in a rich, rainy environment. These plants are neither superior or inferior, they are simply different. Just as some of the most beautiful blossoms require the right type of fertilizer or soil, some brains require medication to reach their full potential.