The myth of chemical imbalance

    By Terry Rubenstein

    “Little evidence that chemical imbalance causes depression, UCL scrientists find.”

    (The Guardian, 20 July 2022)

    This article, and others like it that were published this week, declares that researchers are now openly questioning the use and efficacy of antidepressants, which are being prescribed, astonishingly, to one in six UK adults!

    While highly credible research like this has been and should be welcomed with open arms by all of us in the mental health field, I have no doubt there will still be many skeptics that are wedded to the old narrative. 

    However I want to begin by stating that this research is actually NOT new research. The myth of chemical imbalance has long been established. There has never been any mainstream credible research to prove that chemical imbalance exists as a cause for depression and many other related diagnoses. 

    If you went to your GP the day after this article was published, it is quite likely (though I would be delighted to be proved wrong) you’d be told that just like you should take medication for diabetes or a broken leg, depression is no different. You take aspirin to for a headache; so too you can take a pill to sort out your serotonin levels. Our sports people, celebrities and influencers make headlines telling us that they’ve proudly come to terms with the fact that their depression is no different to suffering from a physical illness. They are touted as heroes for destigmatising mental illness.

    But it’s a false premise of de-stigmatisation. It’s replacing one type of stigma for another. Because it is stigmatising normal human struggle.

    We are being told: “Don’t be embarrassed about suffering as you’re actually sick.” Yes and No! No one should ever be ashamed of feeling pain or struggle or despair or angst. But NOT because we are sick or because we are at the mercy of something biological.

    We should not feel ashamed because it is a normal and important part of the Hero’s Journey that we are all on. It is an essential element of chiselling away at our inner core as we struggle, learn, evolve and become more enlightened on this beautiful planet we inhabit. Ask Joseph Campbell, the author of the classic work The Hero with a Thousand Faces, which introduced the concept of the Hero’s Journey to popular thinking in the late 1940’s.  

    If we rationalise normal mental struggle away as something chemical, if we tranquillise a generation with pills, we will never face our demons and conquer them. We will never find the deeper wellness that exists within us all and which is essential for us to evolve personally and as a society.

    Yes, we need support – lots of it. And yes, there is a place for medication in specific cases. But that is another conversation. In the meantime, a bandwagon is rolling with alarming speed that we have all have jumped on. This bandwagon says: ‘If you’re sick, you need pills. And boy, have we got pills for you!’ This has exacerbated, if not helped to create the current mental health crisis we are now facing.

    It’s time to really change the headlines and really change the paradigm. It’s time to move away from medicalising human pain. It’s time to move towards learning how to uncover human wellness. 

    Wouldn’t that make for a great story that would bring hope to millions?

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