Pseudo-science and profit over people
This episode might be the most controversial that I’ve produced so far. Please note that it is not intended to disrespect anyone who has suffered mental health issues; indeed, I have experienced episodes of depression throughout my life, some of them quite intense. However, this episode does refute certain popular beliefs about the causes and treatments of mental health disorders, and as such, some people might find it upsetting.
Most people are familiar with the the “chemical imbalance theory,” which posits that mental health disorders are caused by too much or too little of particular neurotransmittrs in the brain. For example, it’s been claimed that depression is a result of a lack of seratonin, so people suffering depression are prescribed a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor–an SSRI–such as Prozac, Paxil, or Zoloft.
There’s a big problem with the chemical imbalance theory, though: it’s not true. It’s been repeatedly disproven, and is not recognized as valid in the field of psychiatry. Regardless, it is still widely believed in popular culture and among many health care professionals.
I first learned about the baselessness of chemical imbalance theory from the work of Bruce E. Levine. Bruce is a practicing clinical psychologist who writes and speaks about how society, culture, politics and psychology intersect. His most recent book is “Resisting Illegitimate Authority: A Thinking Person’s Guide to Being an Anti-Authoritarian―Strategies, Tools, and Models,” published by AK Press. I’ve been an admirer of his work for several years now, so it was a true pleasure to have a conversation with him.
Bruce and I talked on Dec. 17th, 2020, and we covered a lot of ground. Among the subjects we discussed: critiquing the “defect model” of mental illness; how psychiatry resembles religion; the financial motivations of Big Pharma; that SSRIs are no more effective than placebos in clinical trials; the lack of connection between depression and seratonin levels; how Big Pharma load the dice in their studies; how Big Pharma influences the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (known as the DSM); the subjectivity of diagnosing mental health issues; when anti-authoritarian people are diagnosed as “mentally ill;” how blaming individuals for their mental difficulties gives systemic factors a pass; the role of trauma in adversely affecting mental health; the importance of community and its role in healing; the recent legalization of psilocybin mushrooms in Oregon; and his recent book, “Resisting Illegitimate Authority.”
Again, no insult is meant to anyone who has experienced mood difficulties in their life, but we must dispense with some myths if we are going to work together towards a healthier society.