Clients come into my office all the time wondering why they feel depressed and anxious. They are stuck in the middle of the situation, too close to be able to see clearly what is going on with them. Depression itself can make it difficult to focus and think clearly as well. Other times they are trying to look objectively to figure out what is happening, but are still having a hard time finding answers that fit.
If you go to your medical doctor with symptoms of either anxiety or depression (or both) their first course of action is to give you a prescription for an antidepressant. If you are lucky, they may suggest some blood work as well or maybe counseling. In many cases though, you will walk out only with that script to take to the pharmacy and the belief that there is an issue with your neurotransmitters in your brain (why else would you be given a prescription that works on the neurotransmitters?)
Are Neurotransmitters to Blame?
Unfortunately, neurotransmitters are often not the cause of depression and anxiety. I know you are probably thinking I’m a lunatic going against everything we have been told for decades about depression. We have heard it from our doctors and pharmacists, drug commercials, and even from our friends and family. It is “common knowledge” that mood disorders are caused by neurotransmitters. If this was really the case though, antidepressants, which work on serotonin or dopamine, would have higher success rates, especially when compared to placebos. Here is an article by Irving Kirsch, a researcher who is very outspoken about his work that has found that antidepressants are akin to placebos. In fact, in this article he discusses how SSRI’s, the most commonly prescribed type of antidepressant in the U.S. (which increases the amount of serotonin available in the brain) shows the same effectiveness as a drug approved in France to treat depression which is an SSRE (which decreases the amount of serotonin in the brain.) So according to this, it doesn’t matter what you do to the serotonin, the treatment results are the same! Go ahead, take a look for yourself.
Dr, Kelly Brogan, M.D. (a traditionally trained psychiatrist that specialized in maternal mental health that found the way she was taught to treat depression wasn’t working clinically) discusses in her book A Mind Of Your Own many other problems she sees with the serotonin model for depression. I won’t give away all her points, but she does talk about how even though low levels of serotonin have never been linked to depression in human studies, high levels of the neurotransmitter have been linked to schizophrenia and autism. She reports that in the 1950s and 60s this hypothesis grew out of the clinical trials of the drug ipronizad for tuberculosis patients. The patients who received this drug, which also affects serotonin levels, experienced improvements in mood as well and therefore researchers made the assumption that serotonin was linked to mood. I dont know about you, but I would be really happy too if a drug helped treat me for tuberculosis and I felt better! She has many other good points, but I’ll let you read the book if you are interested!
If you have held in with me this long, you may be wondering what the true cause of depression is. That is not an easy question to answer still due to the complex nature of our minds and body, which are connected. The research that I have read seems to show that there are multiple roads to get to the general causes of depression which are inflammation and gut health. In the next blog, I will discuss some of the research that links these conditions to depression as well as the factors that cause inflammation and gut issues in the first place.