Big Pharma and the Chemical Imbalance Myth

Elise McDonough interviewed Bruce E. Levine about the themes of his book, Surviving America’s Depression Epidemic: How to Find Morale, Energy, and Community in a World Gone Crazy in the latest issue of High Times.

From the interview:

EM: Depression is not caused by a chemical imbalance. Why do you think that hasn’t been covered in the media?

BL: The short answer is money. Historically, drug companies sold psychiatric drugs “just to take the edge off.” Even the major tranquilizers like Thorazine and Haldol, or the minor tranquilizers like valium, were marketed this way. Back then, people weren’t as hypocritical. These tranquilizers were just chill pills to relax people who were really agitated—which was closer to the truth. Then the marketers came across this chemical-imbalance theory. They immediately latched onto it using this idea to sell a heck of a lot more drugs.

When pharmaceutical companies marketed SSRIs, like Prozac, they said that since some people got relief from depression from these serotonin enhancers, maybe it’s because these people are deficient in serotonin—which is silly.

They [the drug companies] knew by the 1990s from a bunch of studies that this theory of chemical imbalance causing depression was untrue. People got propagandized so much that once this theory had been repeated over and over again, it was just accepted as true.

The major corporate media is very guilty of not explicitly saying that Big Pharma was completely wrong [about the causes of depression], and the media still does not question their authority about anything else they claim.


EM: How can people alleviate their depression?

BL: Depression is a reaction to over-whelming pain. The classic symptoms include loss of pleasure, lack of concentration, memory, sexual drive. Eventually, you become so demoralized you can’t summon enough energy to go to work or do anything.

In an industrial society like America, once your whole physical being is shut down, you get terrified of being immobilized and losing your job. That terror is another pain. So it’s a vicious cycle, and taking drugs or using alcohol to escape this pain only contributes to it. Part of turning depression around is breaking this cycle. Humor is a powerful tool to help people pull out of depression, along with exercise, meditation, spending time with family and friends—all those activities are a long-term antidote to pain.

Download the full interview as a PDF here.

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