The myth of the chemical cure and the lie of serotonin imbalance

I’ve written about the myth of the chemical cure and the lie of serotonin imbalance before:

Is Clinical Depression Caused by a Serotonin Imbalance?

The Chemical imbalance ‘theory’… come on Glaxo – PROVE it now

Jury Trials In 2008 Expected To Expose SSRI Maker’s Dirty Secrets

Everything you ever wanted to know about… Serotonin

The term Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI) was invented by a marketing company to sell Seroxat/Paxil to the public. Along with this serious medical sounding piece of jargon, came the fairy tale of the ‘chemical imbalance’

When I started taking Seroxat in 1997, I wanted to know how this great new drug worked – the PIL (the leaflet that came with the tablets) told me “it boosts the levels of serotonin in your brain and that’s what makes you stop feeling depressed”. It’s a simple chemical imbalance said the PIL.

In 2003, GSK said in it “Seroxat is one of a group of medicines called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and works by bringing the levels of serotonin back to normal.”

All lies.

The chemical imbalance ‘theory’ HAS NEVER BEEN PROVED.


Finally by mid 2006 GSK was starting to get closer to admitting the truth in its PIL “It is not fully understood how Seroxat and other SSRIs work…”

If you take an SSRI or SNRI ask to your doctor what the correct level of brain serotonin is – then ask them to measure your current level of brain serotonin… they won’t be able to tell you and they won’t be able to measure it – chemical imbalance is a myth created by drug companies to market their product

Now (July 2009) this from the BBC:

Taking a pill to treat depression is widely believed to work by reversing a chemical imbalance.

But in this week’s Scrubbing Up health column, Dr Joanna Moncrieff, of the department of mental health sciences at University College London, says they actually put people into “drug-induced states”.

If you’ve seen a doctor about emotional problems some time over the past 20 years, you may have been told that you had a chemical imbalance, and that you needed tablets to correct it.

It’s not just doctors that think this way, either.

Magazines, newspapers, patients’ organisations and internet sites have all publicised the idea that conditions like depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder can be treated by drugs that help to rectify an underlying brain problem.

People with schizophrenia and other conditions are frequently told that they need to take psychiatric medication for the rest of their lives to stabilise their brain chemicals, just like a diabetic needs to take insulin.

The trouble is there is little justification for this view of psychiatric drugs.

Altered states

First, although ideas like the serotonin theory of depression have been widely publicised, scientific research has not detected any reliable abnormalities of the serotonin system in people who are depressed.

Second, it is often said the fact that drug treatment “works” proves there’s an underlying biological deficiency.

But there is another explanation for how psychiatric drugs affect people with emotional problems.

It is frequently overlooked that drugs used in psychiatry are psychoactive drugs, like alcohol and cannabis.

Psychoactive drugs make people feel different; they put people into an altered mental and physical state.

They affect everyone, regardless of whether they have a mental disorder or not.

Therefore, an alternative way of understanding how psychiatric drugs affect people is to look at the psychoactive effects they produce.

Drugs referred to as antipsychotics, for example, dampen down thoughts and emotions, which may be helpful in someone with psychosis.

Drugs like Valium produce a state of relaxation and a pleasant drowsiness, which may reduce anxiety and agitation.

Drugs labelled as “anti-depressants” come from many different chemical classes and produce a variety of effects.

Prior to the 1950s, the drugs that were used for mental health problems were thought of as psychoactive drugs, which produced mainly sedative effects.

‘Informed choice’

Views about psychiatric drugs changed over the course of the 1950s and 1960s.

They gradually came to be seen as being specific treatments for specific diseases, or “magic bullets”, and their psychoactive effects were forgotten.

However, this transformation was not based on any compelling evidence.

In my view it remains more plausible that they “work” by producing drug-induced states which suppress or mask emotional problems.

If we gave people a clearer picture drug treatment might not always be so appealing

This doesn’t mean psychiatric drugs can’t be useful, sometimes.

But, people need to be aware of what they do and the sorts of effects they produce.

At the moment people are being encouraged to believe that taking a pill will make them feel better by reversing some defective brain process.

That sounds good. If your brain is not functioning properly, and a drug can make it work better, then it makes sense to take the pill.

If, on the other hand, we gave people a clearer picture, drug treatment might not always be so appealing.

If you told people that we have no idea what is going on in their brain, but that they could take a drug that would make them feel different and might help to suppress their thoughts and feelings, then many people might choose to avoid taking drugs if they could.

On the other hand, people who are severely disturbed or distressed might welcome these effects, at least for a time.

People need to make up their own minds about whether taking psychoactive drugs is a useful way to manage emotional problems.

To do this responsibly, however, doctors and patients need much more information about the nature of psychiatric drugs and the effects they produce.

Dr Moncrieff’s book “The Myth of the Chemical Cure”, published by Palgrave Macmillan, will be available in paperback from September.


10 Responses to “The myth of the chemical cure and the lie of serotonin imbalance”

  1. Placebo Response Under Genetic Control « Follow Me Here… Says:

    […] The myth of the chemical cure and the lie of serotonin imbalance ( […]

    • lidia henshaw Says:

      With a great interest i read Your article. Iam 19 years on “seroxat”, and I have been searching “world” where,haw and who can measure serotonin level in my brain,. For all those years I wos belived that imbalance of this chemical are responsible for my depression. However I am very greatfull to medicine and seroxat company that I can live “normal” live. lidia

  2. Fact and Fiction – Big Pharma busted again as new novel highlights the tragedy of prescription drugs « mentalmedia Says:

    […] The myth of the chemical cure and the lie of serotonin imbalance ( […]

  3. Fact and Fiction – Big Pharma busted again as new novel highlights the tragedy of prescription drugs « tony serve blogs Says:

    […] The myth of the chemical cure and the lie of serotonin imbalance ( Posted in Uncategorized. Tags: activism, advocacy, bipolar, depression, disability, discrimination, human rights, MENTAL HALTH POLICY, mental health, perth, public health, social justice, SURVEY, talkback, views, western australia. Leave a Comment » […]

  4. sirus Says:

    Gr8 article.
    It certainly looks like the serotonin myth is indeed a myth. There was a great show on coast to coast 23 januari that had a professor who now prooved this to be a myth after he, by using freedom of information act, was able to analyse tests which hadn’t been published that showed that these medicines had absolutely no more effect than a placebo. The FDA and drug companies had just chosen those tests that were favorable to the drugs effects and hidden the others that didn’t show a fravorable effect. These reports have now been analysed by the professor and the serotonin myth is most likely real.

  5. Andrew Witty admits defeat on “expensive, high risk” depression drugs « seroxat secrets… Says:

    […] a sugar pill… maybe the ‘chemical cure’ was a lie… maybe Glaxo had no idea how Seroxat was supposed to work… maybe the side effects are much, much worse than Glaxo admitted… maybe Glaxo faked […]

  6. amthewayiam Says:

    its funny how you say its a myth when really it isnt. do some more research before you blab off about something you have no idea about. . . thanks and have a wonder effing day you loser .

  7. billiejo lear Says:

    How sad to read such a response. This is indeed a myth. There are some glamorized tests that are supposed to measure some other chemicals that may indicate weather or not your seratonin levels are high or low or unbalanced however the problem with these tests are the chemicals they are measuring are also produced by other organs in the body and they will never give a true number of how much is coming from the brain. Further, they are not the true seratonin level. You can not measure seratonin in a living human being. I am happy to read your information. I pray more and more people being to learn the truth and get the truth out there. These drug companies are poisoning our gene pool with a lie. They are causing long term disabilities of the body and brain in so many children and adults. It is time to show these drug companies and their psychology sales men for who they truly are. This is the biggest farce since psychology was using cold baths, blood letting, and mercury to treat mental illness. As they inflate the percentages of mental illness and victimize person after person, they are dumbing down our society and turning them into nothing more than drones. Do not buy the lie. Do not take medications that are not proven to work. As you search to find a medication that will actually work in SOME people that do not include the control group that would have gotten better by themselves, you will be highly disappointed. These drugs do not work, by their own tests and their own admissions, the drugs being prescribed to children and adults for these supposed chemical imbalances, are being duped. You are buying untested drugs that have long term effects and can even kill you. You need to get the facts! Thank you for your very informative article. I encourage you to continue writing about this!

  8. Kat Says:

    The whole chemistry imbalance idea seemed irrational from the beginning and I never took it serious. What I know is that some certain events can make us happy while others can make us unhappy . (I.E. You can get terribly depressed over a break up …Laying in your bed in tears for 6 month, not talking to anyone and slowly turning into a miserable zombie. Suddenly you get a call from your ex saying it was a mistake, he loves you and wants to be with you. Would you still feel depressed? I bet it can cure the depression in 10 seconds, maximum a few days. And I have seen it happening with my friends. How would it be possible if their brain was malfunctioning and produced wrong chemistry? How a phone call could correct your chemical imbalance ? So even if chemistry is involved, I believe it is regulated by our thoughts and not vice versa. Our feelings change depending on what we think, hear, see and believe. The reason of depression might be not always so obvious as with a break up, but it’s certainly has something to do with our the way we think of it.

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