Shocking: the depression drug scam designed to sell more drugs

The widely-held belief that a chemical imbalance causes depression in the brain is not only untrue but also hugely profitable for the pharmaceutical industry. The depression drug scam is prevalent around the world, and despite being debunked by research, the chemical imbalance theory continues to be promoted by drug companies and psychiatrists.

A shaky Chemical Imbalance theory of depression 

According to the theory, depression is caused by a lack of certain chemicals, such as serotonin, in the brain. This has led to the development of antidepressant drugs that aim to correct the chemical imbalance. However, studies have shown that these drugs are only slightly more effective than a placebo and most have harmful side effects.

The serotonin Chemical Imbalance hypothesis of depression has been disproven by a team of researchers at the University College London (UCL) and published in the Molecular Psychiatry Journal. Their study reviewed over a decade of research and found no solid grounds for the Chemical Imbalance theory. In other words, there’s no proof that serotonin levels or activity in the brain are responsible for depression. 

That means that the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants have been prescribed by doctors and are massively profitable to the pharmaceutical industry although they don’t actually help patients.

This hypothesis had been questioned by mental health practitioners for a long time, but this new research finally confirms the invalidity of prescribing antidepressants and selling them pretty much a scam.

As elaborated by the research’s leader, Joanna Moncrieff, Professor of Psychiatry at UCL, “Prescriptions for antidepressants have risen dramatically since the 1990s. Thousands of people suffer from the side effects of antidepressants, including the severe withdrawal effects that can occur when people try to stop them, yet prescription rates continue to rise. We believe this situation has been driven partly by the false belief that depression is due to a chemical imbalance. It is high time to inform the public that this belief is not grounded in science.”

Is it about health or money?

The impact of the chemical imbalance theory cannot be overstated, as it played a key role in the approval of the SSRI antidepressant Prozac by the FDA in 1987 and continues to be widely accepted. The consequences of this theory are significant in medical, financial, and sociological terms. According to a study by Harvard Health Publishing in 2011, around 25% of American women in their 40s and 50s were taking antidepressants. Since then, we know that this trend has been increasing across age groups, for both men and women, around the world.

The use of antidepressant drugs has been normalized through movies, music, and the media. All the while, countries that allow drug advertising to the general public have painted a “pink-colored” vision of the use of antidepressants, and of course big budget marketing targeting doctors and psychiatrists. Suddenly, the spectrum of what is depression became a lot wider, and the prescriptions for SSRI rose. 

So instead of analyzing each person’s actual causes for depression, the problem was reduced to a simple chemical imbalance equation, easily remedied by popping a few pills. By 2027, it is estimated that global sales of SSRIs will grow to as much as USD 18.29 billion.

What the industry says about the depression drug scam

Psychiatrists and the American Psychiatric Association (APA), which receives significant funding from drug manufacturers (70% of authors of the APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition were reportedly funded by drug companies), were quick to criticize the Molecular Psychiatry article. Many argued that they didn’t push for the Chemical Imbalance theory. Yet critics would counter-argue, that they didn’t criticize the drug industry, but rather profited from it, while they have no real understanding of why or how SSRI functions.

According to Mark Horowitz, co-author of the Molecular Psychiatry article, “one interesting aspect in the studies we examined was how strong an effect adverse life events played in depression, suggesting low mood is a response to people’s lives and cannot be boiled down to a simple chemical equation.”

Horowitz implies that if depression is caused by stress, trauma, grief, desperation, or social factors like poverty, it may not be treatable with medication. Furthermore, if it is not a chronic chemical imbalance as proposed by the serotonin approach of depression, it would not justify lifelong prescriptions for drugs, which drug manufacturers highly value.

Moncrieff also added that “although viewing depression as a biological disorder may seem like it would reduce stigma, in fact, research has shown the opposite, and also that people who believe their own depression is due to a chemical imbalance are more pessimistic about their chances of recovery.”

However, as Psychiatrist Peter Breggin explains, the idea that mental and emotional distress have biological origins has been around since ancient Greece, allowing physicians to include it within their specialty. With the rise of drug companies in psychiatric practice, there was a push for the biochemical and biological basis of conditions like anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. In the late 1980s, drug companies launched international advertising campaigns claiming depression was caused by a biochemical imbalance in serotonin, despite there being no evidence for this. Research has failed to establish a link between depression and serotonin metabolism in the brain, indicating that mental illnesses are not genetic or biochemical in origin.

Should you quit antidepressants? Only gradually and under supervision

Because of their highly addictive nature, antidepressants can rarely be stopped overnight. Some people are able to quit cold turkey, but many experience withdrawal symptoms.

However, that’s without considering other side effects that can include drowsiness and fatigue, gastrointestinal issues, sexual dysfunction, weight gain, increased bone loss and fracture risk, heat strokes, a feeling of numbness, risk of suicide… 

Withdrawal symptoms can include dizziness, nausea, headache, and brain fog. As exposed by a 2018 article in the New York Times, many patients taking antidepressants find it hard to quit.

Why do antidepressants sometimes seem to work?

Moncrieff and Horowitz propose that SSRI drugs can impact mood by changing normal brain activity. While they may reduce depression scores, they can also cause numbing of emotions, including positive ones like happiness and joy. A study in the Springer Inflammopharmacology journal suggests that one possible mechanism for SSRI effectiveness could be reducing neuroinflammation in the brain through various means.

Related: The benefits of online therapy in Singapore

What’s the best course of action to treat depression then?

Stepping away from the depression drug scam, there is ample empirical evidence, and countless research on the topic of depression have shown that there are some effective treatments without any side effects!

These treatments include:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Interpersonal therapy (IPT)
  • Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT)
  • Psychoanalytic/psychodynamic therapy
  • Light therapy
  • Exercise
  • Diet and nutrition counseling
  • Sleep hygiene and sleep therapy
  • Acupuncture
  • Yoga and meditation
  • Art therapy
  • Music therapy
  • Support groups and peer counseling
  • Herbal remedies and supplements, such as St. John’s wort and omega-3 fatty acids

As with mental health in general, there’s no one size fits all approach to treating depression. Depending on your needs, personality, and history, there are different treatment options, and combinations of them, that can give great results without any side effects.

Some treatments can take longer, and others can show results faster, but they are always a great way to learn more about your functioning and take charge of your own mental health and well-being.

Depression drug scam – Takeaways

The widely held belief that depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, and that antidepressants correct this imbalance, is not supported by scientific evidence. While this theory has been promoted by the pharmaceutical industry and psychiatrists, studies have shown that antidepressants are only slightly more effective than a placebo and have numerous harmful side effects.

Depression is a complex condition that may be caused by various factors, such as stress, trauma, grief, or social factors. The over-reliance on antidepressants as a treatment for depression is not appropriate, and it is important to consider other treatments and lifestyle changes that address the underlying causes of depression.