Do you know what causes depression? Many people would respond that it’s due to a chemical imbalance in the brain. This chemical imbalance theory has been widely promoted by drug companies and psychiatrists alike, to the extent that it’s accepted as fact. The glaring problem is that the chemical imbalance theory is just that — a theory — and worse still, it’s a theory that has been largely discredited.
The theory was first proposed by scientists in the 1960s after it appeared certain antidepressant drugs worked by altering brain chemicals, but it was stated that “the findings are inconclusive.”1 Yet, the theory was proposed at a time when treating mental illness via psychoanalysis was falling out of favor while viewing it as tied to a physical or biological mechanism was in vogue.
The idea quickly spread, becoming the medical dogma for depression, despite concrete evidence proving its worth. “The fact that practicing physicians and leaders of science bought that idea, to me, is so disturbing,” Steve Hyman, director of the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, told Quartz.2 The news outlet continued:
“It’s not hard to see why the theory caught on: It suited psychiatrists’ newfound attempt to create a system of mental health that mirrored diagnostic models used in other fields of medicine. The focus on a clear biological cause for depression gave practicing physicians an easily understandable theory to tell patients about how their disease was being treated.”3