Book Review: Depression Delusion by Terry Lynch, MD, MA

Philip Hickey, PhD
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In this truly remarkable — and meticulously researched — volume, Dr. Lynch annihilates psychiatry’s cherished chemical imbalance theory of depression.  Every facet of this theory, which the author correctly calls a delusion, is critically analyzed and found wanting.  Example after example is provided of psychiatrists promoting this fiction, the factual and logical errors of which are clearly exposed in Dr. Lynch’s lucid, seamless, and highly readable prose.

The book runs to 343 pages, and is laden with factual details, case studies, alternative perspectives, and hard-hitting commentary.  Dr. Lynch does not sit on the sidelines, nor does he seek any kind of collegial compromise with the chemical imbalance theory, which he unambiguously denounces as a groundless and destructive falsehood.  Here are some quotes that I think will convey something of the content, style, and cogency of this vitally important work.

“The world is engulfed in a mass delusion regarding depression.  The widespread belief that brain chemical imbalances are present in depression has no scientific basis.  In fact, this is a fixed belief that meets all the criteria of a mass delusion.  If you are one of the millions of people who believe that biochemical brain imbalances are known to occur in depression, then you too have become seriously misinformed.” (p 1)

“Despite the obvious complexity of the brain, some psychiatrists and GPs profess an understanding of this organ that is highly inconsistent with current scientific knowledge.  Their comments smack of a level of arrogance that in my opinion is downright dangerous.” (p 65)

“The brain chemical imbalance delusion has dominated medical, psychological and public thinking about depression for the past fifty years.  Parties with a vested interest see nothing wrong with this.  Nor do the vast majority of the general public, for whom the depression brain chemical imbalance idea feels as familiar and logical as raised blood sugar in diabetes.  There are two main reasons why psychiatrists and GPs have embraced the biochemical imbalance delusion with such enthusiasm.  This notion portrays doctors and their drug treatment in a positive light, as real doctors treating biological abnormalities consistent with the treatment of diseases generally in medicine.  Secondly, having observed for thirty years how my medical colleagues in psychiatry and general practice work, I do not believe they know any other way of understanding or responding to depression other than as an assumed biological abnormality.  I remain unconvinced that there is sufficient breadth of vision within mainstream psychiatry or medicine to see or to move beyond the rigidly held belief that depression is primarily a biological disorder.  Yet, the majority of the experiences categorized as depression are primarily emotional and psychological or have a significant emotional input.” (p 77)

“It is misleading to state that the brain chemistry of depression is not fully understood, when in truth it is really not understood at all.  It is also misleading to state that ‘research suggests’ that ‘depression is caused by an imbalance’ of brain chemicals.  It is drug companies, doctors and researchers who suggest this, not the research itself. As outlined in detail earlier the research itself does not suggest this at all and indeed contradicts this notion.” (p 149)

“In twenty years as a medical doctor, I have never, ever heard of a patient anywhere having their serotonin levels checked.”(p 153)

“Low serotonin cannot ever be identified since brain serotonin cannot be measured and we do not know what serotonin levels should or should not be.” (p 165)

“Providing societies with an apparently trustworthy rationale for avoiding the reality of human distress has resulted in increasingly costly mental health services within which recovery is a far rarer outcome than it should be.  Since the core issues are repeatedly side-stepped, they are not addressed or recognized within these mental health systems.  It is not surprising that the costs of such systems keep increasing with little hard evidence that these systems are providing value for money in terms of recovery.” (p 237)

“The most beneficial position for psychiatry is therefore the one that currently pertains.  By nailing its colours to the biological mast, psychiatry has successfully set itself apart from talk therapies.  As long as no biological abnormalities are reliably identified, there is no threat that their bread and butter will be removed from them to other medical specialties.  Maintaining the myth that biological solutions are just around the corner satisfies the public and maintains psychiatry’s position quite satisfactorily from psychiatry’s perspective, albeit between a rock and a hard place.  This position has no solid scientific foundation, but as long as the public do not realize this and psychiatry does not attempt to encroach on the territory of other medical specialties such as neurology, psychiatry’s position is secure.”  (p 277)

“When basic principles of correct reasoning and science are applied to the brain chemical imbalance idea, the flaws and inconsistencies of this belief become obvious.  When the depression brain chemical imbalance idea is rigorously examined, we find that like the emperor, it has no clothes.  These flaws and inconsistencies were known prior to Prozac coming on stream in 1988.  They were dismissed because they risked ruining a great story, from which many groups could profit enormously.” (p 342)

For those who wish to pursue topics further, there is a reference list at the end of each chapter.  There is also a comprehensive index and table of contents which make it easy to find specific sub-topics.

Pharma-psychiatry’s chemical imbalance theory of depression is one of the biggest and most destructive hoaxes in human history.  Dr. Lynch’s Depression Delusion might well be the work that finally lays this hoax to rest, and exposes the self-serving deceptiveness that has become a routine part of psychiatry’s endeavors.

Please read this book, keep it close to hand for reference, and encourage others to read it also.  Ask your library to buy a copy.  The spurious chemical imbalance theory is now so widely accepted that it will take enormous efforts to dislodge it.  In any debate on this matter, Dr. Lynch’s book will, quite literally, put the facts at your fingertips.

60 COMMENTS

  1. Just because the chemical imbalance theory may be incorrect, it is not necessarily true that depression does not have biological causes. There could be many causes of depression with emotional and psychological issues certainly one of the causes. For myself, I struggled with depression for over fifty years until I tried changing my diet. Since changing from a diet that was high in processed grains and dairy products to one which is high in fruits, vegetables and nuts I have not been depressed or anxious. It has been more than three years which is certainly the longest period of time I have ever gone without depression.

    I have heard of many others who have experienced similar improvements with dietary changes. Although, this may not be the only cause of anxiety and depression, when I see how a lot of people eat, I am sure there are many like myself who are totally unaware that what they think of as healthy foods are causing their anxiety and depression.

  2. I, too have seen diet (sugar free, gluten free, grain free) and nutrient therapy work wonders.

    One question for Dr. Hickey: do you agree with Bob Whitaker when he says that psychiatric drugs cause the very imbalances they were touted to correct? I do, even though the imbalances/neurotransmitters cannot be measured.

    • Well, if you give someone who is not diabetic insulin he/she will be in trouble, right? Therefore it’s not inconceivable that messing up neurotransmitter levels when no deficiency or over-activation was present to begin with will screw up the brain.

      • Well, I said as much, specifically noting my agreement with the statement.that psych meds do mess up one’s brain, even though such a statement/supposition/hypothesis/whatever cannot be validated by measurement. It is just an assumption, not different from the supposition that neurotransmitters can go awry when one is lacking in key nutrients. We are not born with a lifetime supply of neurotransmitters; we continually manufacture them from raw supplies (vitamins, minerals, amino acids). If there is a nutrient deficiency (which can be validated, at least in some instances, why is it inconceivable that neurotransmitters will be messed up as a result?

        • The problem with this thinking is the fact that most people in distress who seek out help from the ‘medical/psychiatric’ establishment are never asked about what is going on in their lives.

          It’s the sources of the trauma that need to be address.

          A little justice and maybe a few resources would be a good start before the chemical lobotomy option.

          • “The problem with this thinking..?” What thinking would that be? And what would lead you to believe that I favor chemical lobotomy (i.e., drugs)? To say that nutrient therapy has been very helpful to many people is not an argument against psychosocial intervention. I believe that EVERYTHING matters and that no good healing option should be taken off the table. The evidence is all around us that nutrients and probiotics matter, a lot. Why anyone should oppose this type of intervention, in an attempt to eliminate or at least minimize drugs, is beyond me. Note a recent MIA post on the study that shows that Omega 3 fish oil supplementation is helpful in preventing vulnerable people from sliding into full-blown psychosis. The silence of the MIA commentariat was deafening. Isn’t this ultimately about healing and fortifying people in every way possible?

          • Good nutrition, fish oil, supplements: they all cost money.

            Some people don’t have the cash for decent food; fruits/veggies/protein is very expensive if you’re living on the margins.

          • “Good nutrition, fish oil, supplements: they all cost money.

            Some people don’t have the cash for decent food; fruits/veggies/protein is very expensive if you’re living on the margins.”

            You are absolutely right, of course. I imagine this is equally true of decent therapy. It is a tragedy and a travesty that good healing options are not available to everyone and I wish I had a ready answer for that. But if we get closer to a point where there is general recognition that nutrients, etc. beat drugs, then it becomes even more clear and obvious to the society at large that there is a two-track system of mental health treatment: one for the haves and one for the have-nots and that might stir public revulsion as the idea that poor children are drugged and wealthier children get better with nutrients and therapy. At least, I hope so.

          • humanbeing,

            Yes. In fact, they’re discouraged from sharing this kind of information. Read what Daniel Carlat said in an NPR interview back in 2010:

            “But on the other hand, we don’t want to ask too many questions because if we start to hear too much information, then we’re going to run into a time issue where we’re going to have to kind of push them out of the office perhaps just at the point where they’re about to reveal something that could really be crucial to understanding their treatment.”

            http://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?storyId=128107547

    • Well, they can’t directly measure serotonin levels, but they can measure changes in receptor density, at least in animal studies, and it’s pretty clear that increasing a neurotransmitter in any area leads to a decrease in receptor density in that same area. So increasing serotonin leads to a pruning of serotonin receptors. This is not new information – it has long been understood as the reason why addicts develop “tolerance” and require more and more of the same drug to get the same effect, and also explains longer-term withdrawal issues that continue after the drug is out of the system. You often hear it described as “your brain has ‘gotten used to’ the drug,” but what that really means is that the brain has adapted to whatever change you made by making the opposite change in receptor density.

      What should be clear is that if you decrease serotonin receptor density and then go back to a more normal level of serotonin, the brain will respond as if there is a serotonin shortage, because it won’t have enough receptors to receive the serotonin that is there. It appears the brain then adapts back in the direction of more receptors to compensate, but it is not clear how complete this process is or whether long-term use leads to permanent damage to the receptor system in question.

      —- Steve

  3. I haven’t heard many people directly say that chemical imbalances cause depression. Maybe I’ve missed it, but most people seem to know better, even most psychiatrists.

    I have read a number of psychiatrists saying wishy washy things like, “Depression may be related to biological factors” and “depression may have some basis in biology and genetics.” Translated into normal English, “qqeoiu akjld; vakjl qravv pofdk vjkah”, i.e. meaningless generalizations that make airheads sound like professionals.

    Depression is not one reliable entity, so these generalizations about one main cause for the reified “it” are misleading. But I agree with other commenters here who assert that when people report feeling depressed, it is usually due to psychological and social (environmental) stresses. Duh.

    Also, isn’t this about the 367th time this issue has been rehashed on MIA?

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment. Actually, many psychiatrists and GPs (family physicians) have for decades been asserting that brain chemical imbalances eg serotonin occur in and probably cause depression. I include many specific examples in my new book. I know – from many people who have told me of their experiences in consultations – that this remains common practice in the privacy of the consulting room. The knock-on effect of these repeated medical and pharmaceutical assertions is that this falsehood has taken quite a hold out there in the public domain. Only 9 days ago, another example of unintentional public misinformation on chemical imbalances in depression surfaced in the Chicago Tribune. The comments were made by a lead person involved in a suicide prevention project. http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/lake-county-news-sun/news/ct-lns-suicide-prevention-walk-st-0824-20150823-story.html

      • Thank you, Terry, for writing a book exposing this medical / pharmacutical industry fraud. Like others here, my family and I were lied to by many, many doctors and psychiatrists who claimed I had a “chemical imbalance.” It is truly shameful for the medical community to continue to tell this lie to patients. Thank you for the book review, Philip.

      • My son got the “insulin for diabetes” lecture from a doctor, despite the fact that he was withdrawing from using multiple street drugs and also recovering from an assault by his roommate, among a lot of other stressors at the time. They did a depression screening and he said he’d been suicidal in the last two weeks, and the doc was totally prepared to prescribe. Didn’t even bother to ask, “Why would you want to kill yourself?” A four year old would have done a better job – at least they’d have the sense to ask, “Why are you cwying? Why are you sad?” My son was actually quite insulted by the whole approach, trying to encapsulate his wide range of human suffering into a “brain disorder.”

        Yes, it definitely still happens all the time.

        —- Steve

    • Don’t know where you live, but I find this ‘theory’ to be extremely prevalent in my social/professional milieu. It is ubiquitous and tenacious, still cited in pop psychology books, and the media.

      I am glad for every bit of ammunition I can get my hands on to let the air out of this tired old propaganda.

      Was certainly presented to me as the explanation to my post-partum depression and the subsequent polypharmacy I was prescribed over the next 20+ years by the ‘mental health/health care’ pros, and I *believed* it until I discovered “Anatomy of an Epidemic”.

      Still working on getting my brain back…it’s been a long, hard road.

      Thank you Dr. Hickey for reviewing this book, another tool for disassembling the machine.

    • There are numerous current examples in the media and within mental health and GP services where this notion of the ‘chemical imbalance’ theory of depression continues to be spouted and believed. Terry’s book includes many of these examples. Even now I listen to media shows and media celebrities spreading this myth to the public. I also hear ongoing medical and psych doctors continuing to spread this misconception. It’s happening. Believe it. One of the aim of Terry’s book is to highlight how much this continues to occur in the public domain. The evidence is out there and thoroughly covered by Depression Delusion. This can no longer be denied.

    • I haven’t heard many people directly say that chemical imbalances cause depression. Maybe I’ve missed it, but most people seem to know better, even most psychiatrists.

      (Cut and paste from an earlier comment I made:)
      I was personally told this by at least six psychiatrists. I was also told this by psychiatric nurses, social workers, peer workers, family doctors, and well-meaning but misinformed friends, all who had gotten their information from psychiatry.

      Two of those discussions with psychiatrists (and many with other staff) happened only 3 years ago at which time I was in a hospital “intensive out-patient” program that was entirely centered on the chemical imbalance myth. We were “educated” about it day after day.

      As for MIA “rehashing” the mythical chemical imbalance discussion, I am profoundly grateful every single time this issue is raised. The chemical imbalance myth was the basis upon which I was disabled by psychiatry, and it is still being sold to vulnerable people all over, regardless of what psychiatry’s key opinion leaders now claim.

      Thanks once again to Philip Hickey for keeping it real.

    • I’m sure you’re using hyperbole, but even so, let’s do it for 368th and 400th time if that what it takes to dispel the delusion! This is a primary belief in the NAMI curriculums taught to families and law enforcement officers via CIT trainings. My experience, like others, is that it continues to be a pervasive message needing rebuttal. I’m glad though that in your experience your not hearing it. Maybe progress is being made?

      Thanks for the book and your review Phil.

      • Hi Guys,
        Thanks for your responses. Of course, I believe what you are saying about your experience!
        I have not personally encountered psychiatrists who’ve said that chemical imbalances cause depression, but I had only a limited direct experience with a few psychiatrists years ago. I’m more familiar with psychiatrists talking about false labels/diagnoses, which to me is just as if not more damaging.

        If they are continuing to spread these lies then rebutting them is important, as some of you said, whether for 367th time or the 5000th time. 🙂

        • Hi,

          I agree it is important to keep banging on about this message.

          During inpatient involuntary hospitalisation in NYC in 2011, me and my family were given the “chemical imbalance”; “just like insulin for diabetes”; “you need to be on this medication for the long term if not the rest of your life” spiel.

          In fact every single morning, when doing round the “Doctor” asked me if I believed this story. She was obviously unhappy whenever I expressed any form of skepticism.

          Eventually after 2 weeks, I realised that literally the only way out of there was to pretend that I agreed with them.

          Telling “little white lies” in a GP office is a breach of medical ethics in its own right, but making someone who’s rights you have taken away, and who is extremely frightened already profess belief in something you know to be false, as a condition of their release is, well, it’s insane frankly.

          I don’t understand how this isn’t illegal. i don’t understand how these people sleep at night.

          One of the worst things is, upon my release, when I started looking into all this, and found out that it really is complete BS…I was so angry, but when I tried to talk to friends about it, I couldn’t because they believe it’s true…and that I’m just being a “crazy person”. This just added to the isolation.

          So the more people who know this. The better.

          • Anonime

            I know exactly what you’re talking about since I work in a state hospital where people are forced to at least pretend that they believe this lie before they’re released. This lie is well established in my work environment and to state that you don’t believe or accept it causes major backlash. I’ve tried introducing some discussion about this in meetings and the usual response is total, cold silence, just as if I’d said nothing at all. One time when I called it into question in a psychopharmacology weekly conference a psychiatrist literally came out of his seat, spittle flying from his lips as he lashed out at my statement. He hissed and spit like a snake! It was unbelievable and after the meeting I was shunned totally as everyone walked out of the room.

            This lie is alive and well where I work!

          • @Stephen Gilbert

            Thank you for your reply, that’s interesting.

            I’d like to get your take on why they do this:
            a. Do they literally know that they’re lying? Or are they simply ignorant?
            b. If they know that it’s not true, is it misguided paternalism? What do you think is driving this message?

            This message is so damaging. I always knew what it was that upset me so much – I just didn’t understand “why”. What I took to be a normal childhood, apparently really isn’t. I thought it was my fault because I was too emotional/sensitive/soft. To demand that a complete stranger, who you do not know, deny all and everything that has happened to her, on the premise that you “know better” takes a very special kind of arrogance.

            Why do they do this?

          • @ Anonimie

            It’s a question I have pondered too. “Why do they do this?”

            My resolution: The “noble lie” explained by Plato.

            Of course once you understand that it is not a “noble lie” by definition (ie that all parties must benefit from the lie) one realises that it is a self justification for the damage being done and profits being generated.

            Similar pattern is observed with the negligence, fraud and slander in the documentation of this industry. ‘Verballing’ is “noble corruption” etc etc

            Nope, it’s a lie, and plain old corruption. Putting the adjective noble in front changes nothing

            My take anyway.

    • One such example is this very slick tv commercial for Zoloft strongly suggesting that depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=twhvtzd6gXA

      If I remember correctly, the above advertisement was shown repeatedly during serious tv shows like World News Tonight and other supposedly credible, influential broadcasts. I certainly found the ad to be highly convincing, and I believe most other people did too.

  4. I’ve often viewed so-called “healthy functioning” members of society that dont suffer of depression (a term which I still find vague) as ppl who are just under a spell that has been secured and welded through years of systematic upbringing. Things such as schooling, beliefs, self-esteem, self and world views etc are all just layered subconscious aspects of a persons character that allow them to pursue life in a collective, somewhat optimistic manner. And society is a gradual morphing play that relies heavily on subconscious beliefs.

    But if these aspects arent foundationally rooted in ppls minds or if they are ruptured for some reason, the person naturally becomes more despondent and depressed.

    Psychiatrists are trying to tell us they can put us under some spell again with anti-depressants, it would seem. Seems absurd.

  5. Just the other day, I was chatting in an internet support group (for crazy cat ladies) when the topic of “chemical imbalance” came up.

    I said, no no no, no such thing, and the ladies in the group were appalled. ONE OF WHOM IS AN MD Cancer research specialist! At the time, the best ammunition I had was Joanna Moncrieff vids on CEPUK (it’s difficult to get the point across in 5 minutes or less, but she does an excellent job) – but I am grateful for yet another confirmation of what it seems the whole world disbelieves.

    Thank you for your work in slaying the dragons of myth.