Side effects of bombshell study debunking ‘chemical imbalance’ myth


Reaction to the Moncrieff et al study which reviewed decades of research and found that depression is not caused by a serotonin deficiency or a ‘chemical imbalance’ has been reverberating around the world since it was published in July, sparking media debate and outrage in many countries.

In short the research shows no evidence of low serotonin in depression, which suggests that antidepressants do not work in the way they were originally thought to work. “In fact, there was little evidence of any abnormality of serotonin in people with depression,” lead researcher Prof Joanna Moncrieff  said in an excellent follow up blog. 

Although Ireland is a nation that consumes a lot of these drugs, the study got absolutely no mainstream media coverage apart from a dodgy opinion piece spewing the usual rhetoric about the supposed dangers of giving people factual information about psychiatric drugs. It’s not even worth linking to.

By now though, scores of excellent articles have been written about the study and its shocking findings. We say shocking, but in fact, most campaigners have known this information for a long time, it’s just been impossible to get the message across, up against the powerful drug lobby and paternalistic mainstream mental health systems. What’s also been interesting in the aftermath is that lots of psychiatrists have come out and said that this has been well known by them for years. Memo – they never bothered to tell their clients. We can only surmise as to why that might be – perhaps it might make people start asking awkward questions as how to how the drugs actually work then. And the truth is no one really knows.

A positive side effect of the research appears to have been that mainstream media (outside of Ireland ) is getting braver in challenging the status quo. For example see the excellent Guardian article in recent weeks – again saying things critical campaigners have been for years, and The New York Times article about harms caused to young people by psychiatric drugs.

Some else unexpected has happened – advocacy by psychiatrists themselves to try and once and for all stop the misinformation about these drugs.

In Australia, nine psychiatrists challenged the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) to act upon the study and take down claims from the organisation’s website that psychiatric drugs rebalance brain chemistry. The psychiatrists were concerned that the misinformation ‘reflects poorly on the College and seriously misleads consumers’. They offered substantial research and clinical expertise to help the College review its online resources – and they got a result, with the RANZCP removing the page to review it.

You would think that new research in such a field as psychiatry – where psychotropic drugs are handed out to most clients, that responding to research in real time should be the norm, given the stakes. This, however, is not the case at all and despite academic psychiatry knowing for many years that the chemical imbalance theory was at best a euphemism, at worst a falsehood, they continued to tell people that’s how the drugs worked.

With all this in mind, we pose some questions: When will the Irish media start looking at this issue and taking it seriously and instead of just listening to one side of the story (psychiatrists), listen to the all of the others who are raising red flags.

As a professor of psychiatry at the prestigious Canadian University, McGill, told the National Post:  “You want to know why it took so long for the truth to come out…I am afraid this has something to do with the toxic relationship between industry and academia.’ Drug companies encourage doctors to prescribe often, and heavily, he said, and have ‘paid many academic psychiatrists to promote their products.”

Secondly, we would like to ask the College of Psychiatrists of Ireland what their position on this issue is? It’s no longer acceptable not to have one. Do they still train their incoming doctors with this outdated ’theory’ and have they updated literature to reflect this unequivocal research.

We will leave you with a quote from a survivor of psychiatry who, upon reading the Moncrieff study, wrote:  “I look at what happened to me when I realised the damage that had been done by those that peddled the “chemical imbalance” theory of suffering, when I realised the lie I was told. And the thing I remember most is the betrayal and anger. The rage really. I mean, I can still feel it. It’s very real inside me still when I think about it. I nearly threw up thinking about how many people this is happening to right now since this study was published because I remember what this was like…..If you now realise you are one of the countless lives that have been damaged and you are feeling betrayed and overwhelmed by grief and loss, know that the psychiatric survivor network is here to help you heal.”