On October 25 2007 I made a post entitled, “What Causes The Chemical Imbalances That Lead To Depression?”
I did not receive any real convincing replies as a result of that article and so I have been doing a lot of research on the claims that depression is, more often than not, caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain of sufferers of depression.
The results caused me to have many doubts and genuine concerns about the value and safety of using many of the prescribed medications. In fact, I was made to reflect on the drug, Thalidomide, that was once deemed to be the Godsend for pregnant women to alleviate their pre-natal problems. Unfortunately, there are many people alive today, who will attest to the fact that Thalidomide caused deformities in fetuses.
Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, defines ‘Chemical imbalances’ as:-
“Changes in levels of neurotransmitters and other neural level phenomena are hypothesised to be the underlying psychopathology for certain mental illnesses, notably clinical depression and schizophrenia.”
In 1965, Joseph Schildkraut hypothesized that depression was associated with low levels of norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter, in the brain, and later researchers thought serotonin, another neurotransmitter, might be the culprit.
In addition to depression and schizophrenia, changes in levels of neurotransmitters have also been implicated in anxiety disorders, and bipolar disorder (manic depressive disorder). As well as changes in serotonin and norepinephrine, dopamine systems have also been considered. So, while all biology is essentially chemical in nature, rather than being caused by simple chemical imbalances, mental illness is now widely recognized to be caused by complex and, in many cases, as-yet unknown factors.
According to Jaelline Jaffe and Jeanne Segal:
“The misconception the [drug] commercials foster is that the brain somehow develops a chemical imbalance and the result is depression, occurring in a single directional process. In fact, the relationship between brain chemistry and experience is a two-directional phenomenon: Life experience affects brain chemistry at least as much as brain chemistry affects life experience. The ‘chemical imbalance’ hypothesis is not wrong. It’s just not entirely correct.”
Most disorders treated with medication have a hypothesised neural mechanism, but it is important to note that chemical imbalances are not believed to explain all psychiatric differences, nor are medications used to treat all neurological or psychiatric issues.
The chemical imbalance theory, according to critics, is routinely presented as ‘fact’ so often it has become widely accepted as fact, despite having been challenged repeatedly. For example, Pfizer has heavily promoted its antidepressant drug, Zoloft, with ads asserting that mental illness may be due to a chemical imbalance in the brain, and that “Zoloft works to correct this imbalance.”Without mentioning its own name, Eli Lilly urges viewers to seek treatment for depression, and to visit their website, DepressionHurts.com, because “Many researchers believe depression is caused by an imbalance of naturally occurring chemicals, serotonin and norepinephrine, in the brain and the body.”
One critic, a psychiatrist mentioned in the book, “Your Drug May Be Your Problem” by Peter Breggin M.D. and David Cohen M.D., is said to have stated that “Biochemical imbalances are the only diseases spread by word of mouth.” Another psychiatrist, Douglas C. Smith M.D., in his praise for the book , stated, ” One hundred years from now, people will read current psychiatric books with the same incredulity we have about blood-letting and snake oil….”
Critics contend that psychiatric drugs are not always efficacious, not always safe, and not necessarily a scientifically sound method for improving mental health. The number of different chemicals in the brain and their unknown interactions limit understanding and increase the likelihood of unforeseen complications. Moreover, critics assert, the psychiatric establishment merely assumes patients who are diagnosed with a given mental illness have a neurological basis, even though behavioral checklists, and not actual neurological measurements, are used to reach a diagnosis.
Psychiatric diagnostic practices in the United States have come under criticism for over-reliance upon these behavioral checklists rather than thorough, whole-body medical testing, and for making decisions based solely on a fifteen minute consultation each month. For example, in a Florida psychiatric hospital study from the 1980s, one hundred patients diagnosed with a mental illness were subsequently given a complete medical exam, after which it was discovered nearly half of the patients’ psychiatric problems were secondary manifestations of an undiagnosed medical problem, such as hypothyroidism mimicking depression.
Even when neurological and neurochemical differences are associated with certain behaviors, the practice of pathologizing these behaviours has been questioned by some. Because neural mechanisms imply a physiological difference underlying mental illnesses, they appear to justify the use of medication in treatment. Critics argue that the legitimacy given to medication by neural mechanisms can lead to an over-reliance on medication. Similarly, the perceived efficacy of medication as a treatment implies an underlying neural mechanism.
Critics also allege that pharmaceutical companies have a conflict of interest when they fund research into biochemical mechanisms behind mental illness and the efficacy of medication at reducing behavior differences. Remember that they can be hounded by shareholders who want quick and lucrative returns on their investments, and the researchers may be swayed to “deliver the goods,” albeit at a subconscious level, to ensure future funding for research.
An important consideration with regard to chemical intervention is the potential for relapsing into depression or other psychiatric conditions when medication is discontinued abruptly or without medical supervision. This point is argued very strongly in the book, “Your Drug May Be Your Problem.” Aside from malnutrition, the only certain means of creating chemical imbalances in the brain is the use of psychotropic chemicals, a category which includes both legal prescription drugs and illegal drugs like LSD or cocaine. Side effects from psychotropic drugs can be significant. Great care must be taken to prevent severe withdrawal symptoms after using psychotropic drugs. Neuroleptic drugs (typically used in the treatment of schizophrenia) are particularly dangerous to withdraw from quickly. Rebound psychosis is common and can leave a patient more unstable than they were prior to taking the neuroleptic in the first place.
So what does all this relatively technical jargon mean?
It’s a bit like the old song, “It ain’t necessarily so” that recommends that we do not necessarily believe all that is being told to us.
This is particularly true with respect to the preaching of the virtues of the use of drugs to combat conditions of the mind, assuming that the cause is physiological. Many prominent psychiatrists argue strongly against this assumption and consider the cause to be psychological and therefore able to be treated by less invasive methods such as cognitive therapy.
If you, or a loved one, suffers from depression or similar conditions, I strongly recommend that you get a copy of the book, “Your Drug May Be Your Problem.” Whilst it appears to be directed at medical practitioners, it is written in lay terms that most people should easily understand.
I know that I weaned myself from using drugs as soon as practical because I could not feel any beneficial effect and was concerned about the possibility of becoming addicted to the drug. I credit my recovery to the information contained in the Total Success Library and listening to good quality self hypnosis tapes, especially the Creative Mind Training set.