As antidepressant use soars, Celeste McGovern investigates a renegade psychiatrist’s view that mental health may be all in your thyroid, not in your head
The use of antidepressants has increased year on year across the globe since 2000. The leading antidepressant prescriber, the US, the home of direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising, saw more than 14 per cent of the population take a prescription antidepressant in a given month, including one in four women in their 40s and 50s. The UK fares better, but is on the rapid global depression incline nonetheless, ranking seventh behind the States for antidepressant use, with one in 11 Britons filling about 53 million prescriptions at last count in 2014—a one-quarter rise from three years before that.
The alarming growth rate of this phenomenon is reflected in spending on psychiatric drugs. Between 1985 and 2007, American spending on antidepressants and antipsychotics alone multiplied nearly 50 times—from $503 million to more than $24 billion annually; the UK’s NHS spending on antidepressants alone rose by 33.6 per cent in just one year to £282 million in 2014.
While it looks as if there’s a plague of psychiatric illness worldwide, a growing number of critics are laying the blame for the epidemic at the feet of psychiatry itself and the pharmaceutical industry in its marketing madness to sell psychiatric drugs. The most recent of these critics is New York psychiatrist Kelly Brogan, who specializes in treating women. Her new book, A Mind of Your Own (Harper Wave, 2016), blasts her own profession for pushing the pharmaceutical industry’s failed serotonin theory of depression and drugs to combat “chemical imbalances” in the brain, while ignoring the true physiological causes of mental ailments.
“Depression is not a disease,” says Brogan, who practices psychiatry and integrative holistic medicine in Manhattan in New York City. “Depression is merely a symptom, a sign that something is off balance or ill in the body that needs to be remedied.”
The real underlying physiological cause of a woman’s depression, malaise, anxiety, flatline libido and fatigue is far from being in her brain, she adds, but is more often an undiagnosed and untreated
For this reason, Brogan is dismissive of the conventional use of antidepressants and emphasizes that the ‘chemical imbalance’ theory has never been proven.
The serotonin story
The general story promulgated by drug companies since the late 1980s is that a deficiency of certain neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) at the synapses, or tiny gaps, between neurons interferes with the transmission of nerve impulses, leading to depression. The neurotransmitter serotonin has received the most attention, but others are blamed as well. It’s a theory that much of the public—and apparently all of the doctors who prescribe more and more of the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), with names like Zoloft, Cipramil, Priligy and Lustral—believe.
In reality, however, as neuroscientist Joseph Coyle of Harvard Medical School reportedly told Scientific American in 2014, “Chemical imbalance is sort of last-century thinking. It’s much more complicated than that.”…