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Mental health isn’t exactly a strong suit for us in the U.S. We are great at hot dog eating contests, spending money on Amazon Prime Day, and getting into arguments with strangers on Facebook, but when it comes to prioritizing our mental health—let’s just say there’s plenty of room for progress.
An estimated 21 million adults in the U.S experience a major depressive episode every year. That is over 8% of Americans. And like with many other mental health trends, the prevalence of depression is headed in the wrong direction, with a steady increase in cases across all age groups and demographics year over year.
Now, this news may not come as a huge surprise. We’ve been in the midst of a mental health crisis for years now and a global pandemic didn’t exactly do us any favors. But this next piece may be a bit more surprising.
According to recent surveys, 85-90% of the public believes low serotonin levels cause depression. Even among psychology students interviewed, 46% reported having heard the chemical imbalance explanation from a physician.
But according to a new comprehensive review, there is no evidence that depression is caused by low serotonin levels. That’s right—what was previously seen as the popular and influential explanation for depression in the mental health space has been challenged repeatedly and now, after decades of research, this recent review seems to have delivered the decisive blow to the serotonin hypothesis of depression.
If serotonin imbalance isn’t to blame, then how should we talk about depression moving forward?
Why is this such a big deal? Well, the whole reason that the antidepressant market is worth well over $10 billion is because of the serotonin hypothesis. For years, antidepressants have been marketed as drugs that help correct chemical imbalances. This now begs the question—if chemical imbalances aren’t the root cause for depression, why are there over 70 million prescriptions filled for antidepressants in the U.S every year?
Good question. Maybe Big Pharma just hasn’t received the memo yet regarding the latest research? Maybe Big Pharma doesn’t subscribe to the Daily Tonic so that they can stay in the loop? They really should.
The key takeaway? We really need to reevaluate how we deal with mental health, and specifically depression, here in the U.S. Big Pharma wasn’t a great solution before this new study came out, and it definitely isn’t a good solution now.
Here’s to hoping that the conversation around mental health will be less about prescription drugs in the future and more about exercise, nutrition, mindfulness practices, quality sleep, and proper stress management.
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