Are antidepressants disease causing?

Serotonin is an important messenger and neurotransmitter. Since 1965, researchers have suspected a link between depression and a low level of serotonin in the brain. From the 1980s onwards, this hypothesis received a great deal of attention. At that time, a new type of antidepressant was developed, the Selective Serotonin Recovery Inhibitors (SSRIs). They cause the serotonin secreted in the brain to remain in the synaptic gap for a longer period of time, stimulating the recipient cells and preventing the SSRIs from being absorbed back into the cells too quickly.

Untested Hypothesis

To date, the pharmaceutical industry has been spreading the above mentioned message to the market about its SSRI-type antidepressants: depression is based on imbalance in the brain and antidepressants are correcting it. However, the thesis has one crucial flaw: it has not been proven in any of the investigations undertaken to date. Some depressed people have a higher serotonin level than healthy people. Nobody knows what a normal value is. Many researchers now suspect that serotonin is only indirectly associated with depression.

This does not mean that a healthy serotonin level is not important. However, it is precisely this level where the drugs tend to muddy the water. It has been known for decades that the density of serotonin docking sites decrease by 25% after only one month if SSRIs are taken. Other researchers report that these receptors decrease by 50% in chronic SSRI administration. To date, the consequences of this has not been clarified. The only thing that is clear: instead of compensating for a hypothetical imbalance in the brain, the SSRIs cause this imbalance in the first place. It is unclear whether the serotonin system is impaired before treatment, yet during the treatment it has certainly changed.

Results suggest – it’s hardly better than a placebo

In addition, the effect of the SSRI is anything but clear. An important review study found that in 57% of the studies, there is no difference between the tested drug and a placebo (sugar pill). And 82% of the improvement achieved with antidepressants was also achieved with the placebo. Only in the small group of severely depressed patients do antidepressants seem to be significantly more effective than the placebo.

Nevertheless, SSRIs are still frequently prescribed, even in mild or even subliminal depressions. In view of the side effects, this is a dangerous practice. Relatively harmless side effects such as disorders of sexual disfunction, insomnia, nausea or diarrhoea are common. The increased risk of suicide is even more frightening: especially among children and adolescents, suicide attempts increased so much during SSRI administration that the package leaflets now must warn against it. Time and time again there are reports of delusional acts carried out under the influence of these tablets. In the United States, there is compelling evidence that the vast majority of massacres in schools were carried out under the influence of psychotropic drugs. The well-known filmmaker Michael Moore believes this connection should be investigated as soon as possible.

Antidepressants - could lead to depression?

Meanwhile, it is believed that the drugs used to alleviate depression are actually responsible (in part at least) for the epidemic of psychiatric illnesses we now experience worldwide. This is one of the claims made by the US science journalist Robert Whitaker. His thesis in short: Many patients are treated with SSRIs unnecessarily due to their initial minor symptoms. This may lead to an improvement of symptoms in the short term. However, the longer the treatment lasts, the more likely it is that the biochemical processes of the brain become more out of sync. There is a habitual effect and the efficacy of the medication decreases. New symptoms may appear in the form of side effects and this can become a pharmaceutical spiral. The Italian psychiatrist Giovanni Fava says: "Antidepressants may be beneficial in the short term for depression, but they could worsen the course of the disease in the long term." Also in a commentary in the journal "Journal of Clinical Psychiatry", which is seldom openly discussed: "Long-term use of antidepressants is now very common”.

Genuine sympathy is crucial if we want to help

What does this mean for those affected? Depression is not a harmless condition and the people affected should be helped. Studies have shown that drugs, psychotherapy, social support, sports, acupuncture or pseudo-treatments are all equally useful. That is why there are researchers who argue that if such different treatments work equally well, it may not even be possible to find out what one should do about depression. All that matters is that something is done. They are thus adopting a thesis developed by the psychiatrist Jerome Frank, about half a century ago; it is crucial that the patient be thoroughly examined, receive an explanation for his or her suffering, create hope and finally practise a therapeutic ritual with an acknowledged expert. Whether the specialist prescribes a drug or conducts conversations, however, is irrelevant. For us laymen, this would mean: we need to assist affected persons intensively and with real sympathy, to brighten up the mood, to suggest natural alternatives like Aronia Berries or Pollen and to work towards a lasting change of the affected person’s life circumstances which may be causing the illness. On the other hand, antidepressants of the SSRI type should be avoided with mild depression.


P. S.: Psychotropic drugs should not be discontinued, or the dosage reduced without consulting your medical professional. A sudden drop in blood pressure can lead to considerable psychological and physical reactions. If you want to adapt an existing medication, you should always do this in cooperation with your doctor.

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