A recent article in Nature magazine shows that evidence for serotonin as the main culprit implicated in depression is slim. Have we had this wrong all along? Experts in the mental health field say no, depression is just more complicated.
A recent July 2022 review article published in Nature has had the wellness world abuzz in recent weeks. In what is described by mainstream outlets as “bombshell news,” the review concludes that there appears to be no correlation between depression and brain levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter found in the fluid surrounding the brain.
Contrary to the news headlines, however, most psychiatrists commenting on the Nature review have not been surprised at all by the results. The serotonin hypothesis as the single model for depression was debunked long ago, and modern psychiatry recognizes depression as a complicated disorder with many causes. Known as the biopsychosocial model, most psychiatrists treat depression as the result of a confluence of genetics and environment.
To simply chalk depression up to serotonin would be far too simplistic. The problem seems to be that the mental health professionals may not be communicating this complex knowledge of depression to patients. For some time, people believed that low levels of serotonin were somehow involved in the development of depression. This hypothesis was likely explained to many patients because the drugs used to treat depression act on serotonin. As reported in the study, more than 88% of patients understand depression to be a simple chemical “imbalance.” An important finding of the review is that mental health practitioners must do a more thorough job of explaining depression and its complex nature to patients.
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