Researchers vs. vloggers
Due to the lack of conclusive evidence, the validity of the serotonin hypothesis has been under discussion in scientific circles for years. It is also losing more and more supporters.
Last year, an international team of health scientists evaluated the state of the research in the popular scientific journal Nature. Their conclusion was unequivocal: “There is no evidence that depression is caused by low serotonin.”
The only remaining question is whether it is time to put the hypothesis aside or investigate it further.
Meanwhile, it has become increasingly popular among researchers to talk about the “chemical imbalance myth.” Some go further and even talk about a form of fraud by pharmaceutical companies, which deliberately spread misleading information for profit.
The general public remains remarkably fascinated by lost substances and happy hormones
Whatever the case, the majority of academics, policy makers and caregivers have now left behind the idea that psychological disorder is the result of a chemical imbalance. The fact that psychological suffering is caused by a complex interaction between biological, psychological and social factors is not debatable.
However, the general public remains remarkably fascinated by lost substances and happy hormones. In some studies, up to 80% of participants reported that they believe depression is the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain.
From analyzing YouTube videos featuring vloggers Speaking of depression, it seems that half of these testimonies relate to stories of biological defects and chemical imbalances. The idea still has widespread support in Belgium.
It indicates a malfunction Mental health literacyThe general public does not have sufficient idea about the nature of mental illness. Lack of knowledge that contributes to the (long-term) use of psychiatric medications in general and antidepressants in particular.
The gap between scientific knowledge and scientific opinion is so large that it has itself become a topic of research in recent years. Nowadays, research teams around the world are studying what could explain the success and persistence of the lost matter myth.
In addition to the influence of marketing and advertising, it is sometimes pointed out that the myth fits neatly into the framework of neoliberal values. Individual responsibility is central, and mental illness soon becomes a purely personal matter, divorced from the social and economic context.
Those who can barely get out of bed often find peace in the idea that there is a fatal physical defect
But this also cannot explain the continued success of the theory. More and more research indicates the great personal benefit of the story for patients. The idea that depression is “an illness like any other” seems to be particularly effective in combating feelings of shame and guilt. Those who have dropped out of school, can no longer fulfill their obligations, or can barely get out of bed often find peace in the idea that there is a fatal physical defect.
Therefore, doctors and psychiatrists often tell their patients the story of serotonin deficiency, according to research and testimonials. Even with full awareness that the theory is as leaky as a sieve from a scientific point of view.
Strictly speaking, this is misinformation, but many consider it a white lie. For the same reason, the context of destigmatization campaigns is often filled with strict medical language.
Despite all the good intentions, in 2023 we know that this strategy is a double-edged sword. For example, depressed patients who cling to the happy hormone myth actually feel less guilty.
Depressed patients who cling to the happy hormone myth are less optimistic about their chances of recovery
On the other hand, research also shows that they are less optimistic about the chances of recovery and that belief in the ability to control and regulate emotions is often diminished. This is by no means unimportant, especially for children and young people whose skills are still developing.
Moreover, people easily believe that they are dependent on psychotropic substances for life. Ironically, attempts to eliminate stigma, guilt and shame indirectly encourage (over)consumption of psychoactive substances.
Moreover, the ability of myth to remove stigma seems somewhat exaggerated. Those who view mental illness through a purely medical lens actually tend to place less blame on patients. On the other hand, these glasses develop a perception of unpredictability and danger, making others more likely to keep a safe distance. In this way, the myth also works against inclusion.
Happiness hormones the current situation
Efforts are being made to reduce the use of psychotropic substances Mental health literacy Hence an indispensable starting point. Ultimately, antidepressants are still often sold alongside outdated theories about the nature and causes of mental illness.
The happy hormone myth serves many interests, but it certainly does not serve the interests of people living at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder
This is not nearly so innocent, for several reasons. Certainly not in children and young people. The fact that they are taking more and more antidepressants may be concerning, but it is not entirely unexpected. The well-being of Belgian youth has been deteriorating for several years, as a large-scale survey showed this year. This becomes clear, especially as you move down the social and economic ladder.
Particularly in these vulnerable groups, there is often no money left at the end of the month to pay for psychotherapy and people are more likely to turn to pills. They are also more likely to fall prey to proverbs related to happy hormones and chemical imbalances. In addition, the impact of harsh living conditions and socio-economic disparities on mental health is at risk of disappearing into the background.
At the last moment, he presents an additional objection to the myth of the missing substance in the brain. It serves many interests, but it certainly does not serve the interests of people at the bottom of the social and economic ladder.
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