Chemical Imbalance Myth

Chemical Imbalance Myth


Debunking the Chemical Imbalance Myth

Today, over 27 million Americans, many still in their teens, are being prescribed some type of antidepressant to curb their complaints of depression, or other undesirable chronic mood. This may be an acceptable course of treatment except for one vital fact:

There is no scientific evidence to support the claim that “Chemical Imbalances” cause depression, anxiety or similar illnesses. This is called the chemical imbalance myth.

This truth of the chemical imbalance myth is well known by the mainstream medical and psychiatric profession, yet prescriptions for antidepressants continue to be the preferred and accepted course of treatment for depression and anxiety-related “disorders”.

In his article, “Commentary: Against Biologic Psychiatry,” Psychiatric Times (1996), David Kaiser, MD, writes:

“Patients have been diagnosed with ‘chemical imbalances’, despite the fact that no test exists to support such a claim, and that there is no real conception of what a correct chemical balance would look like.” [1]

Bruce Levine, PhD (Psychology) echoes this sentiment…

“To date, there is absolutely no proof or reliable evidence of biochemical, neurological, or genetic markers for attention deficit disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, depression, schizophrenia, anxiety, compulsive alcohol and drug abuse, overeating, gambling, or any other so-called mental illness, disease, or disorder.”[2]

Joseph Glenmullen, M.D., a clinical instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, provides the disconcerting fact that…

“In medicine, strict criteria exist for calling a condition a disease. In addition to a predictable cluster of symptoms, the cause of the symptoms or some understanding of their physiology must be established. … Psychiatry is unique among medical specialties in that… We do not yet have proof either of the cause or the physiology for any psychiatric diagnosis. … In recent decades, we have had no shortage of alleged biochemical imbalances for psychiatric conditions. Diligent though these attempts have been, not one has been proven. Quite the contrary. In every instance where such an imbalance was thought to have been found, it was later proven false. … No claim of a gene for a psychiatric condition has stood the test of time, in spite of popular misinformation.” [3]

The common theory is that depression is caused by abnormally low levels of a specific neurotransmitter, most commonly serotonin. Yet, this has not been scientifically validated as scores of renowned medical scholars and practitioners have affirmed. Dr. Glenmullen clearly asserts that “A serotonin deficiency for depression has not been found. (Emphasis added)… Still, patients are often given the impression that a definitive serotonin deficiency in depression is firmly established.”[4]

Dr. Peter Breggin, an internationally known psychiatrist and author asserts that not only is there no evidence that any psychiatric or psychological disorder is caused by a biochemical imbalance, but there are no tests available to prove the chemical imbalance myth. This is the reason why psychiatrists, and other medical doctors, do not draw blood or give spinal taps to determine the existence of such biochemical imbalances. Instead they base their diagnosis solely on their observation of patients.[5]

In Blaming the Brain: The Truth About Drugs and Mental Illness, Elliot Valenstein, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of Michigan, states, “It may surprise you to learn that there is no convincing evidence that most mental patients have any chemical imbalance. (emphasis added).Yet many physicians tell their patients that they are suffering from a chemical imbalance despite the reality that there are no tests available for assessing the chemical status of a living person’s brain.” [6]

Medical researchers further confirm in PloS Medicine, a peer-reviewed open-access journal published by the Public Library of Science, that while neuroscience is a rapidly advancing field, “ to propose that researchers can objectively identify a “chemical imbalance” at the molecular level is not compatible with the extant science. In fact, there is no scientifically established ideal “chemical balance” of serotonin, let alone an identifiable pathological imbalance.”[7]

Researchers also make the observation that in reviewing the scientific literature regarding this issue, to the best of their knowledge, “…there is not a single peer-reviewed article that can be accurately cited to directly support claims of serotonin deficiency in any mental disorder, while there are many articles that present counterevidence.”[8]

Most telling is the fact that in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), published by the American Psychiatric Association which lists and defines the ever-expanding list of psychiatric diagnoses and is the equivalent to Psychiatry’s “bible”, does not list serotonin as a cause of any type of mental disorder.[9]

The fact that no correlation between neurotransmitters and depression exists is well known by the U.S government as well as the medical profession.The U.S. Congress Office of Technology Assessment assembled a panel of experts who reported in 1992 that…

“Prominent hypotheses concerning depression have focused on altered function of the group of neurotransmitters called monoamines (i.e., norepinephrine, epinephrine, serotonin, dopamine), particularly norepinephrine (NE) and serotonin. … studies of the NE [norepinephrine] autoreceptor in depression have found no specific evidence of an abnormality to date. Currently, no clear evidence links abnormal serotonin receptor activity in the brain to depression. … the data currently available do not provide consistent evidence either for altered neurotransmitter levels or for disruption of normal receptor activity”. [10]

Doctors Prescribe Antidepressants in Record Numbers Despite the Fact That Serotonin and Other Neurotranmitters Have Never Been Scientifically Proven to be the Cause of Depression or Other Related Mental Illness.

Americans continue to be prescribed antidepressants, specifically selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs), allegedly to help “balance” chemicals in the brain that cause depression and anxiety. Yet as discussed above, the chemical imbalance myth has never been proven and such imbalances have never been scientifically shown to be the cause of depression or any other related mental “disorder”.

In a recent study it was shown that from 1996 to 2005 there was a marked and broad expansion in antidepressant treatment in the United States. Specifically, the rate of antidepressant treatment increased from 5.84% in 1996 to 10.12% in 2005, or from 13.3 to 27.0 million persons.[11]

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) study revealed how the use of antidepressants and other psychotropic drugs (those that affect brain chemistry) has skyrocketed over the last decade. The study looked at 2.4 billion drugs prescribed in visits to doctors and hospitals in 2005. Of those, 118 million were for antidepressants. The CDC report also found that adult use of antidepressants almost tripled between the periods 1988-1994 and 1999-2000 and that between 1995 and 2002, the most recent year for which statistics are available, the use of these drugs rose 48%.

The National Center for Health Statistics 2004 report found that 1 in 10 American women take an antidepressant drug such as Prozac, Paxil or Zoloft, and the use of such drugs by all adults nearly tripled in the previous decade. Antidepressant drugs showed some of the largest increases in use and that by 2000, the proportion of adults using such drugs had nearly tripled, compared with the data set that ended in 1994.

According to the latest News and Numbers from the 2008 Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (“AHRQ”),[12] prescriptions filled for antidepressant drugs increased from 154 million in 2002 to 170 million in 2005. The AHRQ data found that in 2005, 53.0 million antidepressant prescriptions were prescribed. Of this, psychiatrists prescribed 29.3%; however, an astounding 54% of the antidepressants were prescribed by doctors without a specialty in psychiatry (general practitioners, family practitioners, and internal medicine specialists).

Belief in doctors… and the medications they prescribe… has clearly reached “religious” proportions. And sadly the medical profession, whether conscious of this fact or not, has exploited its faithful so thoroughly and completely to where they now enjoy authoritative monopoly power over the individuals who entrust them with their health. In this way, it can at least be understood how “trust without examination” can have serious side effects.

The Sanctuary at Sedona does not advocate the use or non-use of antidepressants. We do, however, acknowledge the chemical imbalance myth. What we do teach is how to break through belief barriers that not only can be mired in disinformation, but also inhibit human potential. Our Journey Beyond Belief program focuses on teaching students the difference between belief-based and truth-based paradigms, not only for self edification, but also for the purposes of achieving great awareness, purpose, creativity and well-being.

[1] Kaiser, David. “Commentary: Against Biologic Psychiatry.” Psychiatric Times, Dec. 1996.
[2] Levine, Bruce Ph.D. (psychologist). Commonsense Rebellion: Debunking Psychiatry, Confronting Society. New York: Continuum, 2001.
[3] Glenmullen, Joseph M.D. Prozac Backlash. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000.
[4] Id.
[5] Breggin, Peter M.D., Cohen, David Ph.D. Your Drug May Be Your Problem: How and Why to Stop taking Psychiatric Medications. New York: Perseus Books, 1999.
[6] Valenstein, Elliot Ph.D. Blaming the Brain: The Truth About Drugs and Mental Illness. New York: The Free Press, 1988.
[7] Lacasse JR, Leo J., Serotonin and Depression: “A Disconnect between the Advertisements and the Scientific Literature”. PLoS Med 2(12): e392. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0020392 (2005).
[8] Id.
[9] Id.
[10] “The Biology of Mental Disorders”. U.S. Gov’t Printing Office, 1992.
[11] Olfson, Mark MD, MPH, Marcus, Steven C. PhD. “National Patterns in Antidepressant Medication Treatment” Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2009; 66(8):848-856.
[12] Statistical Brief #206w