It has long been thought that serotonin regulation is the key to unlocking depression. We’ve all heard about how depression is a “chemical imbalance” in the brain. Heck, I’ve explained this to my patients, and psychiatrists are still being taught this during their residencies. However, last month, a groundbreaking paper was published in Molecular Psychiatry that essentially debunked this longstanding “truth.”
Now, we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, though. If you are already on an antidepressant medication (most likely an “SSRI” or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) and it’s helping, don’t stop taking it. If your doctor has recommended that you start taking such medication, give it a shot as it might be really useful in helping you. Just because serotonin does not seem to be the cause of depression, that doesn’t mean that it can’t be part of the solution in helping to alleviate symptoms of depression. After all, there are many studies that demonstrate that exercise, socializing, being in nature, engaging in psychotherapy, and establishing healthier sleep and dietary habits are all very helpful in treating depression, but no one is saying that the absence of exercise or psychotherapy causes depression.
Perhaps a nice take-home from this article is that we still don’t really understand why some people get depressed, what mechanisms underly the development of depression, and why certain things help reduce depression… But we do know which certain things tend to be pretty darn good at doing so, and medication is just one of the tools we have that are generally quite safe and effective.