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By Ronald Pies, M.D.

 

Dear Mrs. ——-

 

You have asked me about the cause of your mood disorder, and whether it is due to a “chemical imbalance”. The only honest answer I can give you is, “I don’t know”—but I’ll try to explain what psychiatrists do and don’t know about the causes of so-called mental illness, and why the term “chemical imbalance” is simplistic and a bit misleading.

 

By the way, I don’t like the term “mental disorder”, because it makes it seem as if there’s a huge distinction between the mind and the body—and most psychiatrists don’t see it that way. I wrote about this recently, and used the term “brain-mind” to describe the unity of mind and body.1 So, for lack of a better term, I’ll just refer to “psychiatric illnesses.”

 

Now, this notion of the “chemical imbalance” has been much in the news lately, and a lot of misinformation has been written about it—including by some doctors who ought to know better 2. In the article I referenced, I argued that “…the “chemical imbalance” notion was always a kind of urban legend—never a theory seriously propounded by well-informed psychiatrists.”1 Some readers felt I was trying to “re-write history”, and I can understand their reaction—but I stand by my statement.

 

Of course, there certainly are psychiatrists, and other physicians, who have used the term “chemical imbalance” when explaining psychiatric illness to a patient, or when prescribing a medication for depression or anxiety. Why? Many patients who suffer from severe depression or anxiety or psychosis tend to blame themselves for the problem. They have often been told by family members that they are “weak-willed” or “just making excuses” when they get sick, and that they would be fine if they just picked themselves up by those proverbial bootstraps. They are often made to feel guilty for using a medication to help with their mood swings or depressive bouts.

 

Read in Full:

http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2011/08/04/doctor-is-my-mood-disorder-due-to-a-chemical-imbalance/



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