The "chemical imbalance" myth

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  1. Michael Etts, LMSW’s avatar

    Oops, I guess you can’t cut and paste from MS Word…

  2. Charley’s avatar

    This is the theory I was given behind the shrinkage of the hippocampus:

    The hippocampus has the function of routing experience to parts of the brain that  store it as  recallable and verbal memory.  In trauma, the hippocampus route is shut down to keep the memory stored in the amygdala (the fight-flight-freeze) part of the lower brain.  In severe trauma, the memory is stored as a sort of sensory template in the amygdala for future reference (that is, situations similar to the trauma, from a sensory point of view, but not a verbal point of view — memory as sights, sounds, smells, etc.).  These memories are not accessible consciously, and are triggered by similar events, or even sudden sounds.  They can produce nightmares and flashbacks, all without words.

    For people who have severe PTSD, a lot of daily experience is colored by the anxiety and other biological components that are related to this.  As the hippocampus is kept out of the experiential loop, it starts to lose mass.  Over the years this becomes visible and measurable.

    This is based on the work of Bessel van der Kolk. As I’m a bit out of my league at this point I only offer it for comment.

  3. peter’s avatar

    sorry about that!! more n more people are becoming aware of the fact that the fda is putting out pills that are proven to make poeple sicker n perhaps even die from them!! money money money!! n this is just not right!! i know i’m just nother person to put out a comment like this!! but we need to stop this visiouse sycle!! in my opinion i think fda does have the cure to almost if not all desieses but they keep making pills to sell making people think its the only way to deal with that sertain desiese!! if they know or are aware of the herbal substance that affects the sertain desiese dont you think they have the herbal plant to cure the cause? every one wants to be rich or at least have security but some pople are just doing it the wrong way!! my point is this the fda eventualy will lose its power due to evidence of its conflict of interests!! i wish i had a pland or the herbal remedie to give to you if you yourself want to do something to beter your mental health but the truth is that i myself am having trouble getting it!! be safe eat healthy or just drink a crap load of water lol and alot of salads LOL

  4. mark p.s.2’s avatar

    Another reason why the chemical imbalance idea is popular , is that the parents of the chemically-unbalanced-brain patient who perform mixed messages/”Double Bind”
    get to continue perform their insanity on their child.
    “when examining a patient with suspected hysteria, try not to embarrass or threaten the patient.”
    or the patients family in the case of mental illness.

  5. Charley’s avatar

    Have a family ever done a psychological number on a kid or a kid done a psychological number on their family? Of course.

    Have you ever known a real schizophrenic? I mean someone who is brilliant and wonderful in every way, who’s mind descends a dark stairway into a place where voices tell them to do things? Real voices. Not “imagined” voices – not guilt-trips from a religious education, not drug flash backs, not “the little voice talking to me inside”… REAL live voices that won’t stop.

    What about images? Images of shadows approaching from every angle? Sheiks, howls and cries that nobody else can hear? Yet they are so REAL and relentless.

    The only way these experiences have ever been reproduced in a sustained and predictable way is through the use of psychoactive drugs -

    And, regardless of how any of us feel about drug companies, psychiatrists, or psychotropic medications, the anti-psychotic drugs are one of the only ways most of those so seriously afflicted are able to return to anything resembling “normal” society. And, note my use of the word “normal” suggests a WIDE range… Surely if people can’t feed themselves, bathe themselves, maintain shelter, or any of the other things we consider “normal” they need *something*. And without committing them to locked wards for the rest of their lives, what other options are there?

    Most represent only a danger to themselves. However, many represent a danger to others -

    If we all spoke the same language, prayed to the same god, and lived in a circle of grass huts in the land of milk and honey it would certainly be an easier social question to answer. Maybe we could send them out into the woods with scheduled envoys to pay visits with food until they got “better”.

    I don’t have an answer. I have seen with my own eyes where despondent people came onto a psych unit, clearly detached from the same reality the rest of us were sharing (wide ranging though THAT reality was…). Within days on psychotropic meds I was enjoying dinner and conversation with a brilliant human being who days earlier had been a sloberring, shit spreading, ranting and raving lunatic. I’m pretty certain my medicated dinner companion was somewhat closer to the “real” human being than that frightening and very troubled person he was previously.

    We could talk about side effects and I’d agree with you. We could talk about drug companies selling the public a feel good med for every ail. We could talk about a society who wants to solve everything with a pill and I’d probably agree with you.

    But there are certain things I just know… Because I’ve seen them… And lived them… And blaiming schizophernia, and suggesting treatments, based on the psychodynamics of an individual’s environment? I think not.

  6. Charley’s avatar

    Well, on another note. I thought I’d share this… It would sure be nice if our lives could be lived this way…

    <!– @page { margin: 0.79in } P { margin-bottom: 0.08in } –>
    The Song of A Life

    When a woman in a certain African tribe knows she is pregnant, she
    goes out into the wilderness with a few friends and together they pray
    and meditate until they hear the song of the child.

    They recognize that every soul has its own vibration that expresses
    its unique flavor and purpose.

    When the women attune to the song, they sing it out loud. Then they
    return to the tribe and teach it to everyone else.

    When the child is born, the community gathers and sings the child’s
    song to him or her. Later, when the child enters education, the village
    gathers and chants the child’s song.

    When the child passes through the initiation to adulthood, the
    people again come together and sing. At the time of marriage, the person
    hears his or her song.

    Finally, when the soul is about to pass from this world, the family
    and friends gather at the person’s bed, just as they did at their birth,
    and they sing the person to the next life.

    In the African tribe, there is one other occasion upon which the
    villagers sing to the child.

    If at any time during his or her life, the person commits a crime or
    aberrant social act, the individual is called to the center of the
    village and the people in the community form a circle around them.
    Then they sing their song to them.

    The tribe recognizes that the correction for antisocial behavior is not
    punishment; it is love and the remembrance of identity. When you
    recognize your own song, you have no desire or need to do anything that
    would hurt another.

    A friend is someone who knows your song and sings it to you when
    you have forgotten it.

    Those who love you are not fooled by mistakes you have made or
    dark images you hold about yourself.

    They remember your beauty when you feel ugly; your wholeness
    when you are broken; your innocence when you feel guilty; and your
    purpose when you are confused.

    You may not have grown up in an African tribe that sings your song
    to you at crucial life transitions, but life is always reminding you when
    you are in tune with yourself and when you are not.

    When you feel good, what you are doing matches your song, and
    when you feel awful, it doesn’t.

    - Author Unknown

  7. Sandy Naiman’s avatar

    Heartfelt thanks for all your research and meticulous care in explaining so responsibly and thoughtfully, this dangerous  mythology.

    I wish the psychiatric medical establishment would take heed. LISTEN. And return to talking therapies. They work. 
    In 1991, after 16 years on Lithium Carbonate for psychosis with mania, then called Bipolar Disorder (except I never get depressed), I was diagnosed with Acute Iatrogenic Endstage Kidney Failure. I was practically comatose in the Emergency Room of a teaching hospital in Toronto after spending 24 hours in physical restraints in the psychiatric in-patient unit of that hospital.

    My psychiatrist of 16 years was head of psychiatry there at that time. He hadn’t been monitoring my Lithium levels and later, it was discovered that I was born with only one kidney.

    I almost died, but didn’t.

    Instead, I faced 18 months of getting sick enough to go on dialysis. First Hemodialysis. Then, after two bouts of surgery, when both AV fistulas in my arms failed, along with other spots on my anatomy – I have thick blood and thin veins, a bad combination for hemodialysis – I went onto Peritoneal Dialysis. After a two-year complication-filled ordeal, including about 5 surgical procedures, 18 months on an off in hospital and nine blood transfusions, my sister saved my life by donating her kidney.  

    The trend today is to neurosciences in psychiatry. No one seems to want to listen. Big Pharma is so powerful. I hope I live to see the day when all this madness ends. But I don’t know. I take an innocent-for-me anticonvulsant that stopped my twice-yearly psychotic episodes cold. That was more than 20 years ago. As long as I get enough sleep.

    Psychoanalytic psychotherapy since 1991 has helped me to recover.

    Not drugs. There is no insight in a pill bottle. I wrote about you today in my blog, “Coming Out Crazy.” A mention. But I linked to this post. And another.

    Keep up the good work. I’m a new fan.
    Sandy Naiman

  8. Chris’s avatar


    Welcome to the blog and thanks for your feedback and sharing your story. I was moved by your journey. I wish I could say your story was unique. I’ve heard so many similar stories from readers and friends and family members whose lives have been put in serious jeopardy by psychiatric drugs.

    I’m glad to know that you’re writing about this stuff. The more voices we have in this movement, the better our chances of helping people to understand how dangerous these drugs really are.


  9. stephanie’s avatar

    I have been having an argument with my best friend about the chemical imbalance myth. She is a card carrying PETA member/vegetarian who supports the pharmaceutical industry. My guess is she’s not taking into account all of the testing done on tons of animals for decades in the name of these drugs.  But that’s not really my biggest concern. I am very glad to have found this site.  It disgusts me how many people actually think they should take a pill for everything…..and that taking a pill will change your cognition. It’s ridiculous and hilarious at the same time. I signed up for your daily email.

  10. Chris’s avatar

    Hi Stephanie,

    I’m glad you like the blog. Please note that I am taking a break from writing new posts for a while due to other commitments, but am still responding to comments when I can.


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