Psychological Solutions For A Better Life

Today I am talking about fixing depression quickly through medication, the years old fairy tale of  the “Chemical imbalance” in the brain that causes depression and a whole array of other mental illnesses. Whereas in past decades people have blamed mothers for peoples’ mental health problems, nowadays theories favour the defective brain as the cause for issues people struggle with.

It is amazing that theories of biological causes manage to remain in the forefront of the discussion between doctor/health professional and patient – given that there is no evidence to prove these theories right. A large number of researchers have already in the late 90s pointed out that the biological-chemical-imbalance-theory is a creative construction kept alive by the pharmaceutical industry.

Elliot S. Valenstein has shown in 1998 (Blaming the Brain:  The Truth about Drugs and Mental Health, The Free Press, New York) that biological theories are based on accidental discoveries, for example that depressed people often have a low level serotonin. Drug companies through their funding of research, professional organisation, professional journals, and conferences exercise a huge influence on researchers and clinicians.  In 96% of studies that received financial support for their research, researchers found in favour of the drug tested while only 37% of researchers who did not receive support found in favour of the drug (Tanouye, 1998, Does corporate funding influence research. Wall Street Journal, B1, B6).

Aggressive promotion (pharmaceutical companies spend between US$ 10.000 and 15.000 per year per physician on marketing, between 20 and 30% of the annual budged for the American Psychiatric Association comes from pharmaceutical companies (Duncan, Miller, and Sparks, 2000. The myth of the magic pill. Family Therapy Net worker).

However, it seems to be more comfortable for people to accept a floored theory of biological origins of mental illness rather than dealing with the discomfort of not really knowing how come people become so disturbed. Indeed, so much so that in 1997 overall 74% of patients were treated with drugs for depression while a decade earlier only 37% turned to drugs. Clients attending psychotherapy declined proportional to the rise of drug use.

Valenstein argues that we barely understand the origins of mental illness. He found in the studies he analysed that a combined approach of medication and therapy seems to give the highest likelihood of success at treating common disorders.  And when it comes to therapy, we enter into a similar controversy, namely which of the different theoretical models is most effective. But that is another post. A brief preview: none of the therapeutic approaches has demonstrated to be more effective than others. It’s not the approach that delivers the active ingredient, it’s the relationship that is developed between therapist and client.

Comments on: "The Truth about Drugs and Mental Health" (2)

  1. Secret Shadows said:

    Ever since I first entered therapy back in ’91 the issue of Depression and PTSD has come up time and again. I have been told I have a chemical imbalance that predisposes me to episodes of depression, and it would seem to be a family “inheritance” because my mother, father, and sister all suffer with episodes of depression as well. I do believe that there exists something there, however I do NOT feel it is responsible for the severity of the depression I have felt. Chemically or not, one has to wonder, would I be this depressed if I didn’t also have PTSD/DID?? Would I be this depressed if I had lived a life free of abuse and trauma. I have often said to therapists that I just don’t see how anyone could have PTSD?DID and NOT be depressed because that is no way to live. It is hard to plug forward and gather the energy to live day to day dealing with flashbacks and such. It takes its toll on the body and the spirit in a major way. Recently I started taking Propranolol for the PTSD symptoms and the results have been astounding for me. It has helped so much with those issues particularly related to PTSD, and it’s made an overall positive effect on everything. Before I started taking that, I was still struggling because I couldn’t get the antidepressant right. I had tried Zoloft,Lexapro, and Effexor at various levels and still did not get more than marginal; relief UNTIL the Propranolol helped with the PTSD stuff. So…my point…..having the PTSD stuff much more managable, I don’t have NEAR the depression, and I even wonder if I could actually go off the Effexor, but I don’t try it. I do have a history of being suicidal and self injurious and I have 4 kids. The risk/benefit ratio is too high for me to test my theory at this time. But my guess is as long as the PTSD is under control, I suspect that the depression would be as well.

  2. Elaine McC. said:

    I can recommend a book :
    The Noonday Demon, written by Andrew Solomon, brilliant New Yorker (I think)suffering from severe depression whose dad was/is in the pharmaceutical industry. Andrew, a journalist, is currently doing his Ph.D. at Cambridge University – he may come up with more stuff – he’s looking at attachment relationships, I think. He tried everything, including bizarre cures like lying next to a goat (which was killed). Amazing book, Amazing man.

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