Since the 1970s, mental health professionals, medical professionals, and pharmaceutical company representatives have widely purported the notion that chemical imbalance primarily influences the development of depression or mood disorders and that depression can be eased by balancing chemicals in the brain that have become unbalanced. In an article published in Science News in February 2023, writer Laura Sanders stated, “the phrase chemical imbalance doesn’t mean much of anything when it comes to the brain and all its complexity. Serotonin, the chemical messenger often tied with depression, is not the one key thing that explains depression. The same goes for other brain chemicals.”
An article appearing last year in Psychology Today in July 2022, cites that chemical imbalance theories became prevalent, not coincidentally, in the late1980’s with the introduction of Prozac, a drug that appeared to be helpful in treating depression by increasing levels of the brain neurotransmitter serotonin. Pushed heavily by the pharmaceutical industry and professional organizations such as the American Psychiatric Association, the chemical imbalance story has become the “dominant narrative” with regard to depression and it is generally accepted by Americans, according to the article.
Truthful But Not Fully True
As Ms. Sanders indicates, chemical imbalance is not the primary cause of depression. Chemical imbalance is a result of persistent depression symptoms. Although not being or having been a mental health professional, medical profession representative, or pharmaceutical company spokesperson, I have known large numbers of people who have undergone periods of deep discouragement, and I have also experienced bouts of persistent sadness.
Chemical Imbalance Happens
A commonly held belief is that personally overwhelming events trigger depression or mood disorders. What is not generally acknowledged is that overwhelming events can be of a triumphant as well as of a tragic nature. In either case, a person who is depressed is repeatedly experiencing an inability to cope with life circumstances or being unable to manage changes, whether the incidents are essentially of a delightful or distressing nature.
This is the point at which brain chemicals genuinely do become unbalanced; respectfully, I disagree with the statement of Ms. Sanders that chemical imbalance does not mean much when it comes to the brain. When a person repeatedly verbally or nonverbally voices thoughts or sentiments such as, “I don’t think I can do this, this is too big for me, or I am a loser, a failure,” mind, body, and soul respond in kind. It would not be abnormal for a person who consistently experiences such a mindset to curl up in a fetal position—one possible outcome of brain chemicals becoming imbalanced.
Recovery Is Real And Possible
Recovery from depression, from a pervasive sense of hopelessness, became possible for me for several reasons. First, performing prayer enabled me to confront being mortal, limited, and sinful. Second, prayer engagement allowed me to admit being chronically emotionally ill and facing death and to recognize the unmistakable presence of God everywhere. Third, prayer activity gave me an opportunity to choose continuing emotional illness and/or death or to discover new life through renewed partnership, primarily with God, and including fellow humanity and self. I am confident that I would not be alive or would remain gravely ill today, had I not chosen to re-establish a relationship with God sixteen years ago. Renewed faith in God also enabled me to recover a sense of humor. When one loses a sense of humor, one becomes considerably ill.
New Attitude Equals New Life
Once having renewed relationship with God, I recommenced observing daily self-care, including proper hygiene and wearing clean, fashionable, and presentable clothing-often neglected when one is deeply discouraged. Shortly thereafter, I fully and permanently lost interest in smoking; I had previously been smoking a pack of cigarettes a day for several years.
I again began consuming a largely vegetarian diet, increasing the amount of water I drink, avoiding caffeine, and exercising – first through regular walking and later through enrolling in private and group classes at a ballroom dance school and also practicing ballroom dance patterns five days a week in a gym studio.
Daily prayer, healthy eating, proper hydration, and exercise are vital aspects of mental, physical and spiritual health.
Regularly interacting with people, first in small and then in increasing doses, became another way of promoting healing, as was performing all of these activities while remaining in conversation with God, either through informal or formal prayer, sometimes including scripture reading. As I began to develop increasing spiritual trust, I moved away from defining success in worldly terms or in terms of proving—house size, car size, relationship status, or financial status. In doing so, I began to experience true passion, or contentment.
Antidepressants Are Generally Not Helpful
Moments after I experienced renewed relationship with God, I became confident that I was able to stop ingesting prescription anti-depressants that were prescribed for me for two years. Truthfully, anti-depression medication only dulls or submerges symptoms of depression, for example, chronic sadness, hopelessness, and loss of physical energy. Directly addressing states of mind and loss of physical energy associated with depression or languor is precisely what is required to recover from depression. While I continued to ingest prescription medication, days before reconnecting with God, I had begun to experience deadly thoughts.
In an interview with CBS news correspondent Leslie Stahl in 2012, which was re-aired in 2015, psychologist Dr. Irving Kirsch, Associate Director of Placebo Studies at Harvard Medical School, stunned CBS news correspondent Leslie Stahl and 60 Minutes viewers. Dr. Kirsch indicated that people diagnosed with mild and moderate depression symptoms who are being prescribed antidepressant medication are becoming well essentially through experiencing empowering placebo-resembling effects of the medications, not chemicals present in the antidepressants. He said that he has led numerous studies of placebos and antidepressants for thirty-six years.
Probing Dr. Kirsch, Ms. Stahl asked whether people who are consuming antidepressant medication would see the same effects if they ingested placebos or sugar pills. Dr. Kirsch replied, “They’d have almost as large an effect and whatever the difference, it would be clinically insignificant.” Disputing Dr. Kirsch, Ms. Stahl instantly rebutted, firmly saying, “But people are getting better, taking antidepressants. I know them; we all know them.”
Dr. Kirsch responded, “People do get better when they ingest the drug, but it’s not the chemical ingredients in the drug making them better; it’s the placebo effect.” Dr. Kirsch reiterated that when one swallows a pill containing an antidepressant medication or a pill containing a placebo—a substance containing starch or sugar, which has no therapeutic value—this creates a placebo effect, also known as a powerful belief in healing, which temporarily alleviates depression symptoms.
Come To A Surprise Party
For a number of years, I also talked with a psychologist, who helped me in working through personal issues and who also helped me to manage socializing again. Doing so taught me to observe conflict, division, and discouragement as natural parts of living and therefore not to deny or fight conflict or division. I am now able to experience conflict as what it truly is — opportunity for growth. Faith enables a person to be quietly confident that God is at work in every conflict and division happening every day all over the earth and that one is experiencing darkness solely because God is planning a surprise party and that without darkness there would be no such party. How is God at work? This is a mystery. God is preparing a wondrous surprise party for everyone who wants to come to the upcoming celebration.
Contentment is inner peace. Being content reaches far beyond being happy or sad. One can be happy, for example, about finding a new job, entering into a new relationship, or buying a new car, just as one can be sad about losing a job, a relationship, or being involved in a car accident. Happiness is fleeting.
Experiencing contentment enables a person to be calm, to be still, to be joyful amid each and all life circumstances, whether life situations are mainly triumphant, tragic, or somewhere in between. Contentment is a state of being that one experiences solely through faith. People define contentment in many ways, including belief in God- a being beyond self, an enlightened state, or a transcendent being.
Faith Is A Crutch
People sometimes define faith as a crutch. It is. Anyone who has attempted to deal with life without the crutch of faith—solely with human willpower and strength—is aware of misery and harm this brings, including depression, which not only affects individuals but also people interacting with said individuals. In simple terms, God is no dictator or tyrant; Resembling a non-bullying car driver, God requests that each and all to freely choose whether to be co-driving car passengers and if agreeing to do so, to employ God-given gifts, enabling each and all not to be God but to to become equal partners with God.
Embracing faith does not guarantee that one will not be or become depressed. Nurturing faith does guarantee that one will develop necessary tools that enable a person to be aware of and deal with depression triggers. Faith development also teaches a person how to be able to manage depression symptoms.
I was about ten years old when I traveled with family to the renowned Basilica of St. Anne-de-Beaupre, located in Quebec, Canada. Wondrously, I observed two pillars near the entrance of the cathedral that are filled with racks of crutches, canes, braces, and other signs of disabilities. Pilgrims who said that they were healed at the basilica left one of these items on a pillar. If able to do so, I would add a crutch to one of the pillars. In fact, I would confidently, tenderly, and quietly add far beyond one.
Former educational tutor, small business owner, and part-time freelance news and feature article writer Merrie H. Reagan resides in the USA in the state of Massachusetts. She savors reading, writing, ballroom dancing, singing, homemaking and yard work. Merrie watches varied public and network television programs, including All Things Bright and Beautiful, Call the Midwife, American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, CBS Sunday Morning, Dancing with the Stars, and Funny you should ask. Her debut book is Life Flashes: A Memoir (Stillwater River Publications, 2022).