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Elisa Goldstein, Ph.D.Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
A blog about mindfulness, stress-reduction, psychotherapy and mental health.

Is Depression a Cultural Dilemma?

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Updated: Apr 4th 2013

medicationIt’s been reinforced again and again for that past 40 years that depression is not caused by a chemical imbalance and yet it continues to be the prevailing understanding in our culture. Take a look at some of these quotes from the last 40 years. 

“By 1970…[George] Ashcroft had concluded that, whatever was wrong in depression, it was not lowered serotonin.” [D. Healy, Let Them Eat Prozac]

“…the biogenic amine theory [serotonin, norepinepehrine, dopamine] now more closely resembles a venerable flag than a tool we can work with…” [Bernard Carroll, 1982, cited in Before Prozac by E. Shorter].

“The simplistic idea of ‘the 5-HT [serotonin]’ neurone does not bear any relation to reality.” John Evenden, Astra pharmaceutical company research scientist, 1990 [See Before Prozac by E. Shorter].

1991: The antidepressant drug tianeptine lowers serotonin but is found to be an effective antidepressant [See Chamba et al., 1991]

Psychiatric historian David Healy argues that the serotonin story is a marketing ploy, 1997 [See D. Healy, The Antidepressant Era]

“Although it is often stated with great confidence that depressed people have a serotonin or norepinephrine deficiency, the evidence actually contradicts these claims.” [Neuroscientist Elliot Valenstein, 1998, in Blaming the Brain]

“In truth, the  ”chemical imbalance” notion was always a kind of urban legend- never a theory seriously propounded by well-informed psychiatrists.” Ronald Pies, M.D., Editor of Psychiatric Times, in 2011

(Source: Mad in America)

As we begin to gain a greater acceptance that the serotonin theory is false, we can begin to open up to other scientific theories that can open us up to greater choice and possibility. 

One theory is that for the past 20 years we’ve come to know as a fact that we can change the architecture of our brains through practice. The study about the taxi drivers showing a larger motor cortex than bus drivers was almost 15 years ago. 

Medication can help, but it isn’t the cure, we all have the ability to move in the direction of healing. Science, for the first time in a while, is ahead of the curve showing us that we have the power to use our minds to change our brains. Again, that doesn't mean there's no place for medication, at times it can be helpful in helping us access our minds to change our brains, but at the same time, it's often too quickly overprescribed. 

It’s time for us to treatment in our culture to begin catching up. 

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates living wisdom for us all to benefit from. 


Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles and is author of the upcoming book The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work™ program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations.

Check out Dr. Goldstein's acclaimed CD's on Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, Mindful Solutions for Addiction and RelapsePrevention, and Mindful Solutions for Success and Stress Reduction at Work. -- "They are so relevant, I have marked them as one of my favorites on a handout I give to all new clients" ~ Psychiatrist.

If you're wanting to integrate more mindfulness into your daily life, sign up for his Mindful Living Twitter Feed. Dr. Goldstein is also available for private psychotherapy.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

Evidence doesn't support your theory. - - Apr 6th 2013

If your theory was correct so many would not be helped by these drugs. Scientologist or just making it up as you go?


Depression? Cultural Dilemma? - Mark Adams - Apr 4th 2013

All I know is that shortly after taking Paxil, my mood was much more mellow than it had ever been before.  I had taken many other anti-depressents before that never seemed to have any affect, so I don't believe the Paxil had some kind of placebo affect.  What is it in the brain that you think the medications are actually doing physically?


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