Last year, I watched an interview on ABC News 24 informing us about a “new theory on the cause of depression”. This is that it is caused, not by a “chemical imbalance” but by inflammation in the nervous system (notably the brain). This is being presented as an alternative to the “serotonin theory of depression” that was used to justify the presciption of Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI) drugs, beginning with Prozac in 1987.
I have been watching and analysing the changing hype for many years. When I worked as a family doctor, the drug companies were claiming that depression was caused by a chemical imbalance in the neurotransmitter noradrenaline, not the indole amine serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine). This was because the market leaders in the “depression market” were the toxic and ineffective “tricyclic antidepressants” which were developed in the 1950s and were the mainstay of depression treatment till they were replaced by the SSRIs in the 1990s. Tricyclics were known to affect noradrenaline (norepinephrine) levels in the brain.
The psychiatrist interviewed by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) defended the “chemical imbalance theory” that has been such a successful marketing catchphrase for the drug companies but admitted that the SSRI’s don’t work for everyone and that “we don’t know” why some people with depression have disordered serotonin metabolism and others don’t. As usual, she explained that they needed more money for research to get the answers.
Dr Liz Scott, for that was her name, also agreed that the new theory was plausible, pointing to the fact that stress affects the immune system. She didn’t explain how stress, which usually depresses the immune system, is responsible for this inflammation, or why there is no evidence of such inflammation in the brains of depressed people who commit suicide. At the same time it is known that chronic illness of many types causes unhappiness and “depression”, including viral, bacterial and fungal infections, kidney and heart disease, cancer and chronic arthritis. Forced psychiatric treatment (especially incarceration) is an important cause of stress that Dr Liz Scott did not mention, predictably. Many other things cause unhappiness, and unhappiness has long been termed “depression” by the medical treatment industry, rejecting the older term of melancholia (thought to be due to a preponderance of black bile, one of the four humours of Galenic medicine).
In the 1960s American “experimental psychologists” of the “Behaviorist School” did a series of cruel experiments on baby chimpanzees, which demonstrated, as if there was need for it, that primates (as well as cats, dogs and even rats) pine away and become morose and depressed when they are deliberately made lonely and deprived of social activity and the comfort of others. This was heralded as a “discovery”.
Prozac was released with much hype, including a flurry of books in the “popular science” press, especially by Rupert Murdoch’s Harper-Collins publishers. These promoted Prozac for a range of medical and psychiatric conditions beyond depression, and resulted in profits of 3 billion for Eli Lilly. The other major drug companies followed suit, releasing and marketing (including bribing doctors to prescribe) a growing range of alternative SSRIs.
Eli Lilly have a long history of research into psychedelic drugs and psychoactive drugs that affect the serotonin receptors and pathways in the brain. In the 1960s they bought the rights to LSD (or ‘acid’) from the Swiss company (Sandoz) that had developed it. It was known that LSD could cause “schizophrenia-like” psychotic episodes, according to the psychiatric terminology of the time. This terminology dates back to 1909, when the Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler coined the term “schizophrenia” and promoted its use for what his colleague Emil Kraepelin of the University of Heidelberg in Germany, known as the “Father of Psychiatric Classification”, had termed “dementia praecox” (adolescent dementia).
Bleuler argued that Kraepelin, in Germany was too pessimistic and that a third of his patients in the Swiss Burgholzli asylum recovered and were discharged from hospital. Kraepelin had taught, for many years, that any young person who “heard voices” was eventually destined to die of dementia (terminal mental degeneration) in a lunatic asylum.
German psychiatry became more brutal under the Nazis when patients with “schizophrenia”, “cyclical madness” (manic depression or bipolar disorder) and “personality disorder”, who had been populating the long-term mental asylum wards, were prescribed “euthanasia” – meaning “good” or “mercy killing”. Needless to say this included political enemies of the regime, since it has long been the case that enemies of the state or ruling regime get branded as mad. The same label of schizophrenia was also used in the Soviet Union to justify locking up and drugging, with chemical restraints, social and political dissidents.
In fact, chemicals do have a lot of effect on human thinking and behaviour, as the well-known effects of alcohol and drunkenness demonstates. To understand the hidden crime of “antipsychotic drugs”, and “antidepressants” one needs to know a few basics about catecholamine and indole amine neiurotransmitters and neurohormones.
Neurotransmitters are small molecules that bind to cell membranes of the nerve cells (neurones) in the brain and nervous system, stimulating or inhibiting “action potentials” or electrical impulses that pulse or vibrate in a constant, complex network through the nervous system. There are many different receptors for the same neurotransmitter – for example there are D1, D2, D3, D4 and D5 receptors in different parts of the brain. This results in the same chemical neurotransmitter having different effects depending on the type of receptor on the effector cell.
This science lies behind the efforts, over many decades, to find antipsychotic drugs that did not cause stiffness, dribbling and uncontrollable writhing movements of the face and limbs (Tardive Dyskinesia) which crippled so many of the long-term inmates of mental hospitals in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, when the main drugs that were used were Largactil (Thorazine), Haldol (haloperidol), Stelazine and Modecate. Thousands were crippled and still are, by these horrible drugs – both in the communist and the capitalist nations. The main “indications” were “schizophrenia”, “mania” and “schizoaffective disorder”, though they were also used as chemical restraints in elderly people diagnosed with dementia, a particularly cruel form of elder abuse that was prevalent in the more abusive nursing homes in Australia.
It is important to realise that the neurotransmitters in the brain are in constant dynamic flux. Every emotion or action results in chemical changes. When one listens to music the chemicals in the brain change. When one does for a walk, the chemicals change. When one gets excited, or relaxes, the chemical balance changes. Some neurotransmitters increase and some decrease in activity, made more complex by the fact that different cells have different neurotransmitter receptors, affecting how they respond to them. It been demonstrated that the successful completion of tasks results in measurable increase in serotonin levels.
Chemical imbalance theories make a lot of money for companies selling chemicals (drugs/medications). Millions of dollars are spent on promoting various chemical imbalance theories and the drugs that affect these chemicals. The dopamine theory of schizophrenia and the serotonin theory of depression were used to market dopamine-blocking “antipsychotic drugs” and SSRI “antidepressants” respectively. Despite numerous people demonstrating the fallacy of the different chemical imbalance theories, opponents are up against a multi-billion-dollar industry that is profit-driven and stands to profit from repeating the theories without mentioning the opposition to them.
Don’t believe the hype.