Serotonin Theory of Depression – a review of the evidence

By 5 September, 2022March 1st, 2023Depression

Authors: Joanna MoncrieffRuth E. CooperTom StockmannSimone AmendolaMichael P. Hengartner & Mark A. Horowitz

Publication: Molecular Psychiatry (2022)Cite this article Date: 20 July 2022

This article is clear summary of the scientific facts regarding the serotonin theory of depression, and how this theory no longer holds up to current evidence.

It is science rich, lots of statistics, medical terms and microbiology. The message does not change however.

The summary of their findings: “The main areas of serotonin research provide no consistent evidence of there being an association between serotonin and depression, and no support for the hypothesis that depression is caused by lowered serotonin activity or concentrations. Some evidence was consistent with the possibility that long-term antidepressant use reduces serotonin concentration.”

This review also suggests that the “huge research effort based on the serotonin hypothesis has not produced convincing evidence of a biochemical basis to depression. This is consistent with research on many other biological markers. We suggest it is time to acknowledge that the serotonin theory of depression is not empirically substantiated.”

The idea that depression is the result of abnormalities in brain chemicals, particularly serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine or 5-HT), has been influential for decades. What is more concerning is 80% or more of the general public now believe it is an established fact that depression is caused by a ‘chemical imbalance’.

Many general practitioners also subscribe to this view and popular websites commonly cite the theory . This means for Hypnotherapists treating depression, that we have:

  1. A responsibility to our clients to share this research and discuss it if need be
  2. A responsibility to share this research with our referring GP and doctors, who are really too busy to necessarily have been able to see and consider the latest research coming out of the studies.

Of course it also means we need to become very good at our craft of treating depression with hypnotherapy and strategic psychotherapy so we can create an every greater pool of clients who have had a successful outcome from depression without medication.

What do you think this might mean for us as hypnotherapists treating depression?

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