Summary and Analysis

Psychology Today (and many other media worldwide) reported on a significant new study by University College London published in’s Molecular Psychiatry. The title of the piece says it all: “Depression Is Not Caused by Chemical Imbalance in the Brain.”

The study focuses on the disorder of depression, long believed to be caused by a ‘chemical imbalance’ in the brain. The article points out that the broad acceptance of this ‘chemical imbalance’ theory arose in the late 80’s with the introduction of Prozac—a drug introduced to treat depression by increasing levels of the brain neurotransmitter serotonin. Prozac, and later many other drugs,  were pushed heavily by the pharmaceutical industry and professional organizations such as the American Psychiatric Association. This led to a widespread belief–with the general public as well as medical and other professionals–that psychological difficulties, or mental disorders, had their source in chemical brain processes.

As stated by the study author: “Many people take antidepressants because they have been led to believe their depression has a biochemical cause, but this new research suggests this belief is not grounded in evidence.”

This new revelation is important to the field of addiction treatment due to its striking parallels with the so-called Brain Disease Model of Addiction (BDMA). For more about the BDMA click here.

CLICK HERE to view University College London study: The serotonin theory of depression: a systematic umbrella review of the evidence

Excerpted from Psychology Today

Depression Is Not Caused by Chemical Imbalance in the Brain – KEY POINTS

  • We don’t know how antidepressants work
  • There is no convincing evidence that depression is caused by serotonin abnormalities.
  • Many people take antidepressants believing their depression has a biochemical cause. Research does not support this belief.
  • The notion that antidepressants work by elevating serotonin levels is not supported by the evidence.