Researchers: Depression Is “A Normal Brain Responding to Stress or Adversity”

Moncrieff et al. write, “There is abundant evidence that it is the context of our lives and not the balance of our chemicals that offer the most insight into depression.”


“Difficult lives explain depression better than broken brains,” according to researchers in a recent letter to the editor in Molecular Psychiatry.

The authors, led by Joanna Moncrieff, argue that there is no real evidence for brain differences in depression but that there is convincing evidence of the role of social and environmental factors as a cause.

“We suggest that in the absence of convincing proof of a pathological process, it is more likely that depression is part of the range of emotional reactions to the circumstances of life that are typical of humans,” write Moncrieff et al.
“We agree that mental activity arises from brain activity, but it seems more likely that depression is the result not of a faulty brain but rather a normal brain responding to stress or adversity: in other words, a behavioral state best understood at the level of the mind (that is, the thoughts, feelings, and actions of human beings in their social context) and not of the brain,” they add.

Their article comes as a response to four other letters to the editor by proponents of the biomedical model of depression—those who consider depression to be a “brain illness” first and foremost.

A mental health concept. A mans head covered in clouds. With a double exposure of a mans silhouette over layered on top.

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    • Ever since I first heard the idea of depression as a brain chemistry issue I also instinctively felt that it was wrong. And insulting. And coarsely anti-human. That was back in 1990. I still went on anti-depressants, because I was desperate and if they worked I didn’t care what the underlying theory was. They did work, for a while. But they were no long term solution. Finding a good therapist, learning to share my feelings with the people important to me, learning to take better care of myself: these helped more than anti-depressants. Although anti-depressants did give me enough energy to begin to do those things for myself. For me they were a good short-term bridge to other, better ways of learning to deal with depression and anxiety. But it took me a long time to wean off them.

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  1. What i do not realize is in fact how you are no longer actually much more wellfavored than you might be right now Youre very intelligent You recognize thus considerably in relation to this topic made me in my view believe it from numerous numerous angles Its like men and women are not fascinated until it is one thing to do with Lady gaga Your own stuffs excellent All the time handle it up

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  2. I believe much of it is due to repeated trauma and the Western Society’s lifestyle. I am from a different country and I was in a genocide when I was a child. I was supposed to be ethnically cleansed along with all people with my ethnic and religious background. When you live in a world where no one can or is willing to help you, naturally you become helpless and hopeless. Who’s to say that can’t or won’t happen again. How can you have a positive outlook on the world when you’re exposed to mass slaughter,rape, humiliation and dehumanization? You learn that the world and most people cannot be trusted and are fueled by selfish self-centered desires. Most people in the Western world are selfish and believe in this “individualized” and “independent “ way of living. Social Psychology teaches us people have a much more positive lifestyle in interdependent countries and communities. The majority of American people walk around daily with fake smiles on their face not expressing any and all other emotions. They seem to have no soul or a deeper understanding of what it is to be fully human. They know nothing about the world outside of the USA and don’t really care to know. This capitalist materialistic society is failing and is completely void of morality and values. No pill has ever solved my major depression nor has ECT. No one cares about the person’s life experience or wants to look at that as the core problem. We are not designed to live a life like robots and slaves to the system. There is more depression and mental illness in the United States than anywhere else in the world. Satan rules here.

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    • You are among the few able to see reality clearly, that emotional trauma and neglect are the cause of so much psychic distress (‘mental illness’), especially in the United States, a place where denying reality is not just an implicit goal, but an undeclared sacred duty set forth by the powers that be in the corporate world that, over time, has conditioned people to not only accept being slaves to the system, but to like being slaves to the system; and those who don’t like it and dare express their justified discontent are promptly labeled ‘mentally ill’, the most powerful and most dangerous myth ever created by mankind.

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    • I agree with you 100%! I’m a first generation American Jew and no pill, nor ECT, helped me either. In fact, after 9 sessions of ECT, my psychiatrist told me that I didn’t really respond to it, saying that most people go through at least 12 sessions of it.

      I have a strong family history of major depression and bipolar disorder and due to my biological predisposition and all the stress I was under as a single mother of two, I ended up having a complete nervous breakdown. Time and faith in my Jewish Messiah, Jesus (Yeshua), is what saved me. For all who don’t know, we’re living in the Endtimes and He’s on His way back…Maranatha!

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    • I agree with the substance of your remarks, except that “mental illness” exists only as a metaphor for emotional distress, and the “Satan” you refer to is the golden calf of money worship. There’s no need to cite mythical brain disorders or supernatural entities when describing the horrors and injustices of an exploitative economic and political system masquerading as free-market democratic capitalism.

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  3. On the one hand I appreciate Joanna Moncrieff’s work a lot. It was her’s and her colleagues’ work that I referenced when my doctor’s were asking me why I didn’t take anti-depressants when I suffered from chronic episodic depression. And that was crucial. Because at that time the guidelines said that medication was effective. And I could reference cutting edge research of a very good quality that suggested it was not.

    On the other when I scroll through her article I think: why do we need a doctor to tell us why we have distress and psychic problems. I mean we can experience our lives and how one thing leads to another best ourselves. We are the “first witness” (this is an important concept of the Zen Buddhist path and it advises you to take your direct sensual experience seriously and take it as the rock on which to build your judgments).

    I remember the funny title of a recovery movement conference:

    A Diagnosis for Everyone

    Maybe we should go a step further and in the other direction:

    Who Needs a Mental Health Professional Anyway?

    A soon as I took the power of interpreting my life back from the psychiatrists and psychotherapists I was on a direct and effective way to well-being and happiness. With yoga and meditation and learning to grieve again as my most important wellness and healing tools.

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  4. “…: why do we need a doctor to tell us why we have distress or psychic problems?”

    The answer is WE DON’T.

    Asking that question is the most important question anyone who’s distressed can ask themself, as it’s the FIRST STEP toward living an authentic, and thereby truly meaningful, life (imho).

    And as for “first witness”: it’s worth knowing there’s no substitute for GUT FEELING —

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  5. We live, or try to survive, in environments thoroughly polluted by industrial capitalism, and medicine comes along to gaslight us into denying the reality of such threat to life and health by false belief of biological causes in individuals exploited for more poisons of the Pharmafia to profit ruling class predators. This rationalized irrationality of an inherently abusive social system, summed up by war, likewise produces psychological trauma, only to have us deny common sense by pseudoscience promoting biomedical myths of mental illness. Our healing begins by waking up to the lies and recovering the holistic health of a sane society rooted in the inherent worth of lives no longer used and abused as means to destructive ends of profit and power.

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