The Dangers of the Chemical Imbalance Theory of Depression

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This article outlines how the long held belief about mood issues being caused by chemical imbalances in the brain just does not pan out with science.

A new Harvard study finds that the language you use affects patient outcome.

DEREK BERES

10 August, 2020

  • A study at Harvard’s McLean Hospital claims that using the language of chemical imbalances worsens patient outcomes.
  • Though psychiatry has largely abandoned DSM categories, professor Joseph E Davis writes that the field continues to strive for a “brain-based diagnostic system.”
  • Chemical explanations of mental health appear to benefit pharmaceutical companies far more than patients.

The pharmacological revolution began with tranquilizers. Miltown was the country’s first “blockbuster” drug. Touted for relieving everything from skin problems and stomach distress to lack of focus and social anxiety—and, of course, “the blues”—tranquilizers were the first psychiatric pills to widely infiltrate a country that, for the first time in its history, had expendable income and leisure time.

By 1971, 15 percent of Americans had taken a minor tranquilizer. 

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