It’s Not Just a Chemical Imbalance
Source: New York Times, July 27, 2019
By Kelli María Korducki
"The primacy of the chemical imbalance theory of mental and neurological disorders may be at the root of the problem. It is an oversimplification at best. "
The antidepressant Prozac came on the market in 1986; coincidentally, it was the year I was born. By the time I saw my first psychiatrist, as an early-2000s teenager, another half-dozenantidepressants belonging to the same class of drugs, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or S.S.R.I.s, had joined it on the market — and in the public consciousness.
The despondent cartoon blob from a memorable series of TV ads for the S.S.R.I. drug Zoloft became a near-instant piece of pop culture iconography after its May 2001 debut. It was commonplace through much of my childhood to find ads for other S.S.R.I.s tucked into the pages of the women’s magazines I’d leaf through at the salon where my mother had her hair cut, outlining criteria for determining whether Paxil “may be right for you.” In my depressed, anxious, eating disordered adolescence, I knew by name the pills that promised to help me.
The mainstreaming of S.S.R.I.s and other psychopharmaceuticals didn’t eradicate stigmas against mental illness, but it certainly normalized a sense of their prevalence. (A 2003 study concluded that child and adolescent psychotropic prescription rates alone had nearly tripled since the late 1980s.) It also shaped the tone of conversation.
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Dan Gardner, MD
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