How the “Chemical Imbalance” Metaphor Harms Patients

This article by Justin Garson has been published in Psychology Today. It begins:

  • People who think their depression comes from a chemical imbalance are more pessimistic about recovery.
  • They also tend to believe that medication is more useful than therapy.
  • Fortunately, there are better ways of talking about depression and the brain.

“The way we talk and think about mental illness is a profound ethical issue in its own right, similar to how we talk and think about race, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

Our careless use of metaphors can actually make people worse off.

Depression has long been framed as a ‘chemical imbalance’—a matter of too much or too little of various chemicals in the brain. Drugs like Prozac were long thought to improve people’s lives by restoring these chemicals to their ‘correct’ proportions.

Although the simplistic serotonin hypothesis of depression—the idea that depression stems from too little serotonin—has since fallen into clinical disfavor, chemical imbalance as a metaphor is alive and well, and it may be more harmful than we realize …”

You can read more from here.

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