Depression is not caused by a chemical imbalance

By 4 September, 2022Depression, Research studies
 Professor Joanna Moncrieff and Dr Mark Horowitz (both UCL Psychiatry)

Writing in The Conversation, Professor Joanna Moncrieff and Dr Mark Horowitz (both UCL Psychiatry) report on their new research showing no clear evidence that serotonin levels or serotonin activity are responsible for depression.

This article is a clear and concise summary of the “old” thinking regarding serotonin, compared to the current research findings. A very good read.

“Although first proposed in the 1960s, the serotonin theory of depression started to be widely promoted by the pharmaceutical industry in the 1990s in association with its efforts to market a new range of antidepressants, known as selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs. The idea was also endorsed by official institutions such as the American Psychiatric Association, which still tells the public that “differences in certain chemicals in the brain may contribute to symptoms of depression”.

“People accepted what they were told. And many started taking antidepressants because they believed they had something wrong with their brain that required an antidepressant to put right. In the period of this marketing push, antidepressant use climbed dramatically, and they are now prescribed to one in six of the adult population in England, for example.”

They refer to studies of depression allegedly due to chemical imbalances, transporter genes, gene variations ( study involved tens of thousands of subjects), placebos.

Their final paragraph says ” It is important that people know that the idea that depression results from a “chemical imbalance” is hypothetical. And we do not understand what temporarily elevating serotonin or other biochemical changes produced by antidepressants do to the brain. We conclude that it is impossible to say that taking SSRI antidepressants is worthwhile, or even completely safe. People need all this information to make informed decisions about whether or not to take antidepressants.”

This article originally appeared in The Conversation on 20 July 2022. To read the full article – click here

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