Major depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the U.S., impacting more than 8 percent of Americans. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in governing mood, sleep, digestion and other body functions. For years, a chemical imbalance of serotonin has been widely viewed as the culprit for depression, resulting in the widespread use of antidepressants like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which boosts serotonin in the brain.
A recent paper published in Molecular Psychiatry, concluded there is no convincing evidence that depression is associated with, or caused by, lower serotonin concentrations or activity. This was based on a synthesis of findings reviewing 17 different studies. Also noted was that there was no greater level of serotonin activity in healthy people versus depressed people. Even by reducing serotonin levels with drugs did not worsen the mood of volunteers who participated in these experiments. The long-accepted serotonin hypothesis doesn’t consider the complexity of the brain when it comes to depression.
While not to criticize prescribing medications for depression, or those using them, antidepressants are one of the many possible treatments, but they are not for everyone. As with any medication, antidepressants are associated with potential side effects, people and their clinician need to weigh up the benefits versus the cons. The idea of a biochemical alteration gives the implication of lifelong issue but depending on the severity of depression, there are some practical lifestyle approaches to put into place. Structure and routine throughout the day and the addition of exercise and dietary changes can improve milder forms. Neurofeedback is another approach for many cognitive based disorders (ie: depression). It aims to reorganize and relax brain wave patterns and increase plasticity of the brain. These positive changes result in fewer depressive episodes.
If anything, this research should push the conversation surrounding depression to a deeper level. Depression presents itself differently from person to person, and taking a one-size approach isn’t the answer.