There is no link between Serotonin and depression. Serotonin, a neurotransmitter thought to be associated with feelings of happiness, is often viewed as an important element in fighting depression. However, the relevance of serotonin-based treatment for depression has been put into question by psychiatrist David Healy from North Wales.
A psychiatrist from North Wales has crushed the common belief that depression is associated with low levels of serotonin. According to David Healy, Professor of Psychiatry, it is but a false concept. Generally, it is thought that depression is caused by low concentrations of serotonin. Dr Healy describes how this has become an established fact as “the marketing of a myth”.
Back in the 1980s, the serotonin reuptake inhibiting (SSRI) group of drugs were widely advertised as the solution for depression after the dependence on tranquilisers raised concerns. Dr Healy explains that this occurred “even though they (the drugs) were weaker than older tricyclic antidepressants, and sold the idea that depression was the deeper illness behind the superficial manifestations of anxiety”.
According to him, behind the marketing was “the notion that SSRIs restored serotonin levels to normal, a notion that later transmuted into the idea that they remedied a chemical imbalance.”
He further explains that by the 1990s, it was still not clearly known whether the SSRIs increased or decreased the serotonin levels. He argues that the question remains unanswered even now.
Dr Healy has also spoken of the relationship with doctors and patients pertaining to the issue.
“For doctors it provided an easy short hand for communication with patients. For patients, the idea of correcting an abnormality has a moral force that can be expected to overcome the scruples some might have had about taking a tranquiliser, especially when packaged in the appealing form that distress is not a weakness.”
However, as the idea was being propagated, more effective and inexpensive treatment methodologies were put aside.
He argues that the history of the concept of serotonin related to depression “raises a question about the weight doctors and others put on biological and epidemiological plausibility.”
He has questioned what he has described as a myth further, pinpointing how has clinical trial data showing no evidence of lives saved or improved function been ignored.
“In other areas of life the products we use, from computers to microwaves, improve year on year, but this is not the case for medicines, where this year’s treatments may achieve blockbuster sales despite being less effective and less safe than yesterday’s models.”
“The emerging sciences of the brain offer enormous scope to deploy any amount of neurobabble. We need to understand the language we use. Until then, so long, and thanks for all the serotonin,” he concludes.