Chemical Imbalance May Not Be the Cause of Depression

If you’re depressed, do you have a chemical imbalance in your brain?  There is a theory that a chemical imbalance can cause depression, but it’s not a fact.  Before you chase a chemical fix, you might explore other options.

In Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy Revised and Updated, Dr. David Burns says there’s no proof that chemical imbalance is a cause for depression.

Key Take Aways
Here are my key take aways:

  • It’s a theory, not a fact.   It’s a theory that chemical imbalance is a cause for depression, but not a fact.
  • We don’t know the cause of depression.  We still don’t know the cause of depression.
  • It’s not testable.  There’s no test that can prove that a chemical imbalance is the cause of depression.

I think this raises an interesting issue. When is depression caused by your thought patterns and when are your thoughts “under the influence” of chemicals. I think the meta-point here is that before resorting to chemical treatment, work through and rule out problems with thought patterns, and that chemical solutions aren’t a silver bullet.

It’s an Unproven Theory, Not a Fact
According to Dr. Burns, it’s only a theory not a fact that a chemical imbalance is a cause for depression:

“There is an almost superstitious belief in our culture that depression results from a chemical or hormonal imbalance of some type in the brain. But this is an unproven theory and not a fact.

We Still Don’t Know the Cause of Depression
Dr. Burns writes that we still don’t know the cause of depression:

… we still do not know the cause of depression and we do not know how or why antidepressant drugs work. The theory that depression results from a chemical imbalance has been around for at least 2000 years, but there still is no proof of this, so we really do not know for sure.

There’s No Test That Can Demonstrate Chemical Imbalance is the Cause of Depression
Dr. Burns writes:

Furthermore, there is no test or clinical symptom that could demonstrate that a particular patient or group of patients has a “chemical imbalance” that is causing the depression.”

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1 Comment on "Chemical Imbalance May Not Be the Cause of Depression"

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  1. Jennifer says:

    There are many unknowns in science and yes, there is no test for depression. I only know my personal experience with depression-abusive childhood (seemed natural that was the reason for my depression), put myself through college, love my job, found a wonderful loving man to marry, 2 great kids, financially secure. Have done numerous hours of counseling and group therapy over the years to deal with my childhood. Have a great group of close friends and family. So why have I always fought this underlying sadness? Doctors have for years suggested antidepressants which I said no to-I’m smart, have common sense and am a strong woman, I should be able to overcome this. Finally allowed my doctor to put me on antidepressants about 5 years ago. Definitely the missing ingredient.