Depression – a chemical imbalance in the brain

This well-known theory first gained currency in an article which appeared in The American Journal of Psychiatry in 1965. Was the chemical concerned serotonin? No, it was norepinephrine. The author himself, Joseph Schildkraut, described the theory as ‘at best a reductionist simplification’. He was right, and this is still the case today.

But accepting the theory for argument’s sake, let’s make a comparison. Let us suppose that Madeleine is having trouble with her thyroid gland. She is producing too little thyroxine  and so has a chemical imbalance. The extent of the imbalance is measured by blood test and she is prescribed synthetically produced thyroxine to correct it. The amount of thyroxine required is worked out by reference to Madeleine’s test results.

And now a second case. Albert is a worried man. He goes to his doctor and, after a short chat, the doctor concludes that he is suffering from depression. She then prescribes an SSRI (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor) which will correct the chemical imbalance in Albert’s brain.

But wait a minute, where is the test in this case? Madeleine was tested, why wasn’t Albert? How can the doctor know there is a chemical imbalance to correct without testing the chemical levels in Albert’s brain?

So, in prescribing an SSRI, the doctor is assuming:
–  That the chemical imbalance theory has solid evidence to support it
–   That Albert is one of those affected by a chemical imbalance and his ‘depression’ does not have some other cause
–   That the SSRI she prescribes, and in the quantity she is prescribing it, will correct this supposed imbalance

When it comes to the prescribing of anti-depressants, bold assumptions like these are now being made on an industrial scale.

[To be fair to the doctor, she errs on the side of caution when it comes to quantity, starting with a small dose of Albert’s SSRI and gradually increasing it: something she would not do with thyroxine, where she would know – as a consequence of testing – how much was required.]

3 thoughts on “Depression – a chemical imbalance in the brain

  1. Everyrosehasathorn – So I have finished my first book, Every Rose Has a Thorn, which is available on amazon for free if you have an amazon prime membership, or 2.99 otherwise. http://www.amazon.com/Every-Rose-Thorn-Sierra-Halnsoy-ebook/dp/B00EZ8I8VQ/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1406262459&sr=8-2&keywords=every+rose+has+a+thorn This is a book about Emily Rose who is drawn into a battle between angels that want to not only destroy the world and human race, but for some reason want her on their side when they do it! She must learn that doing what is right isn't always easy, especially when you fall in love with a very dangerous angel!
    Everyrosehasathorn on said:

    I have been on both synthroid and anti-depressants ( for OCD) and have to agree they give out anti-depressants out like candy. I have never had a doctor question me about asking for more anti-depressants, rather I always get asked if I need an increase. I remember when I lost my bottle of synthroid when we were moving and the chaos that ensued because the doctors had to make sure I wasn’t going to see them or anything. Completely different attitudes towards the drugs.

    • rod – Edinburgh – My name is Rod Hart. I live in Edinburgh. I read a lot and write. Two novels have appeared so far. To keep my brain turning over, I am also learning Swedish.
      rod on said:

      Thanks for replying. I have been doubtful about ant-depressants for some time,
      and my doubts have been reinforced somewhat by the book ‘Cracked’ by James Davies, which is very well researched.

      • Everyrosehasathorn – So I have finished my first book, Every Rose Has a Thorn, which is available on amazon for free if you have an amazon prime membership, or 2.99 otherwise. http://www.amazon.com/Every-Rose-Thorn-Sierra-Halnsoy-ebook/dp/B00EZ8I8VQ/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1406262459&sr=8-2&keywords=every+rose+has+a+thorn This is a book about Emily Rose who is drawn into a battle between angels that want to not only destroy the world and human race, but for some reason want her on their side when they do it! She must learn that doing what is right isn't always easy, especially when you fall in love with a very dangerous angel!
        Everyrosehasathorn on said:

        Ah gotcha. Well every medicine comes with some risks and medicines that are good for one person may not be what the next one needs!

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