Biobabble and the SSRI Mechanism

A bill of goods.
In Let Them Eat Prozac: The Unhealthy Relationship Between the Pharmaceutical Industry and Depression, David Healy, M.D. notes that the big pharma version of depression we are being sold is simplistic and, to some degree, without evidence.

As a psychopharmacologist, however, he saw from the outset that the drug firms were pushing a simplistic “biobabble” myth whereby depression supposedly results straightforwardly from a shortfall of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain. No such causation has been established, and the proposal is no more reasonable than claiming that headaches arise from aspirin deprivation. But by insistently urging this idea upon physicians and the public, Big Pharma widened its net for recruiting patients, who could be counted upon to reason as follows: “I feel bad; I must lack serotonin in my brain; these serotonin-boosting pills will surely do the trick.” Thus millions of people who might have needed only counseling were exposed to incompletely explained risks.

(As quoted in the New York Review of Books.)

Certainly no one would dispute than antidepressants can be effective for treating the symptoms of depression. But the idea that we understand the mechanism involved is false — and any psychiatrist will tell you that. As the above asserts, the assumptions that are fostered by the billion dollar pharmaceutical industry (and now largely accepted as gospel) are questionable and self-serving.

If the standard of research, “what is the evidence for that?”, were applied to these assertions — they would not pass muster.

Kalea Chapman, Psy.D.


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Clinical Psychologist practicing in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles, California.

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