“Chemical Imbalance”

When I was started on an SSRI antidepressant in 1998 for anxiety I was told by my doctor that this would correct a “chemical imbalance” in my brain.  As a doctor myself, then training in psychiatry, this is also what I “informed” patients when recommending SSRI antidepressants.

As doctors we presented this as a fact. It was in fact no more than a theory. So how did this theory come to be so “powerfully embraced” by the medical profession? And just how valid was it’s basis? To help you consider these questions, the Anxiety Centre offers an excellent summary.

The following image is of one of the adverts for the SSRI antidepressant that I was started on in 1998 Seroxat (Paroxetine). Adverts, such as this, promoting psychiatric drugs, continue to appear each month, full page, in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

[please note the on-line archive of British Journal of Psychiatry has removed these adverts from the database. My view is that this is unethical, unscientific and limits the opportunity to learn. I have asked the Journal to address this but my communications have been ignored]

Last week I made this short film about a contribution I made to a radio discussion on World Mental Health Day. I was interested to hear a number of contributors talk about “balance”, but no longer of “imbalance”.

Not so long ago [May 2009] this was how the SSRI antidepressant that has blighted my life continued to be  marketed:

“Scientific evidence suggests that depression and certain anxiety disorders may be caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. Paroxetine helps balance your brain’s chemistry.”

“Just as a cake recipe requires you to use flour, sugar, and baking powder in the right amounts, your brain needs a fine chemical balance in order to perform at its best.”

However I could no see paroxetine used as one of the ingredients used in last night’s Great British Bake Off.

Marketing has no place in medical education, yet the Royal Colleges continue to facilitate this. I wonder if “sell-by dates” have expired?

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