Beyond the Chemical Imbalance Theory of Depression: An Interview with Prof. Joanna Moncrieff

This interview, conducted by Justin Garson, has been published in Psychology Today. It begins:


  • In 2022, a large review led by Joanna Moncrieff showed the ‘serotonin theory of depression’ to be groundless.
  • Her review puts into question our reliance on antidepressants to solve mental health problems.
  • It also raises philosophical questions about how to break free from psychiatry’s disease model.

About one in 7 people in the UK are on antidepressants. For American college students, that number is closer to one in 5. These numbers are fueled by the widespread belief that depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain – much like diabetes is caused by a hormone imbalance. But what if this idea is completely mistaken, at least in many cases?

In 2022, Joanna Moncrieff, Professor of Critical and Social Psychiatry at University College London and a long-time critic of medical psychiatry, spearheaded a massive review of the existing evidence for the leading biological theory of depression. This is the famed serotonin theory, which claims that an imbalance of brain serotonin causes depression. She and her collaborators found the theory groundless.

I talked with Prof. Moncrieff about her history of advocacy, the future of mental health, and a report that rattled the medical establishment.

Justin Garson (JG): Last year, you co-authored an umbrella review showing that there’s simply no compelling evidence for the serotonin theory of depression. Could you say a word about the nature and scope of your report?

Joanna Moncrieff (JM): The point of an umbrella review is to get an overview of all the research published in an area by assessing the results of all the previous systematic reviews and meta-analyses. It uses the techniques of a systematic review, including systematic searching procedures, data extraction and quality appraisal, but it collates systematic reviews rather than individual studies ….”

You can read more from here.

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