Summary of When It Comes to Depression, Serotonin Isn’t the Whole Story

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Summary of When It Comes to Depression, Serotonin Isn’t the Whole Story

Summary of When It Comes to Depression, Serotonin Isn’t The Whole Story

For decades, mental health professionals have operated under the idea that the cause of depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain, particularly of low serotonin (Spiegel 2012). Even today, this idea that low serotonin causes depression is very popular. According to Alan Frazer, a researcher who studies antidepressants at the University of Texas, San Antonio it may the dominant view of the cause of depression among mental health practitioners. However, among researchers who study depression, this theory of chemical imbalance being the sole cause of depression is falling out of favor. Modern researchers have come to believe it is “much more complicated than that.”

The low serotonin narrative had it’s origin in a psychiatric hospital in Switzerland in the late 1950s, according to Frazer.  At this hospital, a psychiatrist named Roland Kuhn, observed that when depressed patients were given tricyclics, the first antidepressants, they showed a marked improvement in their condition. Researchers did not understand the process by which these tricyclics worked to ameliorate depression until sometime in the 1960s.

In the 1960s, a breakthrough was made in Parkinson’s disease research. The cause of the disease was determined to be a deficiency of to the neurotransmitter dopamine. Frazer believes that scientists researching depression borrowed this idea of a chemical deficiency and applied towards their understanding of depression.