In Intro to Psychology, you learn that there are multiple different perspectives clinical psychologists take to explain, diagnose, treat and work with a patient. Take Generalized Anxiety Disorder, for example.
Psychoanalytical psychologists ask, “What happened in your early childhood that is having an unconscious impact on you today by keeping you ‘stuck’ in childlike fear responses?” and try to help the patient move past that time frame into the developmentally appropriate stage of rationalizing everyday stress. Behavioral psychologists ask, “What behavior would you like to change?” (in this case, anxiety), and focus on rewards and punishments to change that behavior. Evolutionary and humanistic perspectives also exist, and together, these are what most people think of when they consider psychology. But there is another perspective that, in my opinion, is never taken as seriously in the psychological world — the biological perspective.
Our Introduction to Psychology textbook states, “Biological psychologists study how the structure and function of the nervous system generate behavior.” They ask, “Is there something genetic or environmental impacting your biochemistry that is making it physically impossible for you to feel calm?” and work to fix that cause. The biological perspective goes beyond genetics or the “nature” side of the nature vs. nurture debate. It looks at how your nervous system is impacted by medications as they interact with each other and your genetics and by vitamin and mineral levels because these are what allow neurotransmitters to function. Treatment involves manipulating factors that are behind those neurotransmitter imbalances, leading to an investigation of areas such as genetics, diet, sleep, exercise, vocation, age, sex, weight, ethnicity, hormones and geography.
Case study — symptoms: I first became interested in biological psychology in September of 2019. I randomly experienced ten days of non-stop, hyperventilating crying or panic attacks over the slightest things. I had been managing my anxiety extremely well for years, and I was never one to cry. There were no extenuating circumstances in other areas of my life — school and my relationships with family and my roommate were all going great. Something was spontaneously going very wrong inside my body, and I had zero control over it. I mentioned it (sobbing) to my Equestrian coach, Jenny Schamber, who is also Assistant Director of Taylor’s Counseling Center, at my next lesson and she said to have my doctor check me for a Vitamin B deficiency. So I got a blood test and my doctor also had me do the GeneSight genetic test to see if my medications were no longer working with my genetic biochemistry.
Case study — diagnosis: Long story short, that GeneSight test saved my life and helped us make sense of my blood work. GeneSight showed that I have a common abnormality in my DNA at the gene that codes for the enzyme that breaks down folate into usable components. Folate is the naturally occurring form of vitamin B9, which is necessary for the production of the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, which regulate mood and emotion, respectively. My blood work showed my vitamin B12 levels, which can be used to get a pretty good idea of folate levels, were only 248 pg/mL. They should have been between 300 and 900 pg/mL! Jenny was right — I did have a vitamin B deficiency.
Case study — background: But why did it just now pop up? For starters, let’s be honest, college nutrition sucks, and I wasn’t eating the foods I do at home that just happen to be sources of folate. We also had to wonder if the debilitating anxiety (if left untreated) I had been experiencing since fourth grade was actually due to this. My psychologist and psychiatrist did a lot of talk-therapy with me when I was little, then ultimately just labeled me as anxious and put me on a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) to allow my body more time to absorb serotonin. I was grateful for my happy pills, but they only helped my symptoms rather than providing a cause for them. Plus, they were only supposed to be temporary until I matured and developed proper coping skills. In fact, I had spent the summer of 2019 weaning myself down to a lower dosage because I didn’t want to “be dependent” on them for the rest of my life — which also more than likely contributed to my literal mental breakdown in the fall.
Case study — treatment: I now take vitamin B12, folic acid, folate, vitamin D3 (absorption aid), and iron (evidently anemia comes with this too), in addition to my Lexapro every single day. I am absolutely loving life! My B12 levels are in the mid-700s. I am no longer concerned about “getting off” my Lexapro because I know that it is simply helping my body do what it would be doing if I were normal. I do actually need it —in the same way that I need water —in order for life to be worth living. I am so thankful that the Lord placed such specific people, tests and drugs in my life at such specific times to help me figure that out and get treatment. And I’m thankful for spinach because it contains 33% of your Recommended Daily Value of folate naturally. Contemplate that next time you dodge the salad line.