We’ve long been told that depression is the result of low serotonin levels in the brain. Now, however, a leading professor of psychology is arguing that that may not be true, and results in drugs marketed on a myth.
Serotonin-based drugs, also know as SSRIs, use began to skyrocket in the early 1990’s. The drugs were seen as a safer alternative to tranquilizers, which were the standard treatment for depression until that time. Despite being weaker than old-style tricyclic antidepressants, they grew in popularity because it was believed they restored serotonin levels back to normal, “a notion that later transmuted into the idea that they remedied a chemical imbalance,” said David Healy, head of psychiatry at the Hergest psychiatric unit in Bangor, North Wales.
Healy wrote in a report published in the journal BMJ that in the 1990s, no one knew if SSRIs raised or lowered serotonin levels, but there was no evidence that the treatment worked as a treatment at all. The drugs have fewer side effects than their predecessors, and are safer in overdose, which contributed to their popularity.
“For doctors it provided an easy short hand for communication with patients,” Healy wrote. “For patients, the idea of correcting an abnormality has a moral force that can be expected to overcome the scruples some might have had about taking a tranquilizer, especially when packaged in the appealing form that distress is not a weakness.”
Healy says depression should be reclassified as an infectious disease rather than an emotional disorder, and the professor is not alone in his thinking. Dr. Turhan Canli of Stony Brook University in New York believes depression could be caused by a parasitic, bacterial, or viral infection and argues in favor of further research to test his hypothesis. If this is the case, Canli says scientists could develop a vaccine to protect against depression.
Top mental health professionals have always known that depression might not be caused by serotonin levels alone, but the public never got the memo. Further, reports say that 70% of people on antidepressants don’t have depression.
Not only may antidepressants not attack the root cause of depression, but they could also be dangerously and permanently altering brain function. According to Mercola, patients are recovering from depression faster, but are relapsing more, or only partially recovering and existing in a state of chronic depression that never goes away.
Only about 15% of clinically depressed people that are treated with an antidepressant go into remission and stay well for a long period of time. The other 85% begin suffering continuing relapses and become chronically depressed.
Medical journalist and Pulitzer Prize nominee Robert Whitaker told Mercola:
“By the 1990s, this change in the long term course of depression was so pronounced that finally it was addressed by researchers,” says Whitaker. “Giovanni Fava from Italy said, “Hey, listen, the course is changing with antidepressants. We’re changing it from an episodic illness to a chronic illness, and we really need to address this.”
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