Neurotransmitters implicated in depression


In depression, neurotransmitters often fail. In this article, I will discuss everything about them and how neurotransmitters affect depression.

Table of contents

Why do you go into depression? What is the relationship between depression and brain chemistry? Many people are unaware that depression has a more biological and chemical part.

That is, our brain at a more physical level is not working well, in the same way that sometimes the kidneys or the heart fail in the body. 

However, with depression, people blame the sufferer, making them believe that they are not trying hard enough to feel better, but is this really the case?

Can depression be caused by neurotransmitter deficiencies? Multiple factors can be involved for a person to have depression. While it is true that part of the solution lies in the person and their attitudes, another part often requires the use of medication to solve what is not working properly in the brain.

In depression, neurotransmitters often fail. In this article, I will discuss everything about them and how neurotransmitters affect depression.

Source: Queensland Brain Institute

What is a neurotransmitter?

Neurotransmitters are biomolecules that carry out the function of transmitting information between neurons, that is, the information that a neuron has (which are the cells that are in the brain) is transmitted to other neurons or to other cells of the body to give an order, such as moving a leg, or informing about something in the environment, such as indicating that it is raining.

There are many types of neurotransmitters, and the group of adrenergic neurotransmitters is involved in depression.

Among the neurotransmitters involved in depression, we find dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine. Let's look at the brain chemistry of depression.

Neurotransmitters of depression

How is the brain of a person with depression? As I said, there are three main neurotransmitters involved in depression. Each of the neurotransmitters involved in depression has different functions:

  • Serotonin: participates in libido, appetite, the ability to feel pain (physical), in the sleep-wake cycle and in the regulation of anxiety and aggressiveness. It is also responsible for the production of melatonin. Serotonin is of the utmost importance since it is necessary for decision-making processes, motivation, expression of emotions and memory, interest in doing things, in body movement (lack of serotonin causes a lot of heaviness at the body level) and in the regulation of emotions, so the lack of it, in addition to generating sadness, can cause suicidal ideation.
  • Norepinephrine: it is activated in times of stress as a means of survival in the face of supposed dangers. It is responsible, therefore, for "waking up the body".
  • Dopamine: is responsible for reward mechanisms and alert systems.

A decrease in these three neurotransmitters causes depression. In fact, antidepressants work to increase their transmission, focusing on some more than others depending on the type of antidepressant.

Psychological therapy also seeks to improve this transmission through exercises such as, for example, helping the person to have a more active life, to have a more positive and more realistic point of view, among many other techniques.

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In the same way that the decrease in the transmission of the biomolecules that we have talked about can generate depression, their increase can cause other types of psychological disorders.

  • In the case of norepinephrine, an imbalance can lead to bipolar or unipolar depressive psychosis.
  • In the case of dopamine, high levels can cause schizophrenia and low levels can cause Parkinson's disease.
  • On the other hand, there are many other neurotransmitters involved in mental disorders, since the slight variation in the amount of transmission of these causes great damage in people.
  • In the case of glutamate, which is linked to sensory, emotional and motor information and, in addition, to other processes such as memory, it is associated with bipolar disorder in case of a decrease in this substance.

Also, the variation in neurotransmission can be caused by a gene, as is the case with autism, the autism spectrum disorder. The same gene would also be involved in bipolar disorder.

Bottom line

Finally, keep in mind that the effects of too much or too little of a neurotransmitter vary greatly depending on the area of the brain in which it is located.

Each area of ​​the brain has different functions, so the effects that neurotransmission problems will have depended on the function of that area. For example, if this chemical imbalance occurs in the central part of the brain and there is an excess of dopamine, schizophrenia could result.

All this information helps us, therefore, to have a clearer idea about what can cause a mental illness and consequently understand what needs to be changed and repaired to improve the mental health of the person.

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Disclaimer: This article is purely informative, I have no authority to make a diagnosis or recommend treatment. I invite you to visit a psychologist to treat your particular case.


  • Ayano, G. (2016). Common neurotransmitters: Criteria for neurotransmitters, key locations, classifications and functions. NPC, 1 (1), 1-5.
  • White cross. H., Lupercio. P, Collas. J., and Castro. E. (2016). Neurobiology of major depression and its pharmacological treatment. Mental Health, 39 , 47-58.
  • World Health Organization. (2019). Depression. 29 January 2020, from WHO Website: