THE CHEMICAL IMBALANCE THEORY
Early in my career as a psychotherapist I began to question the validity of the chemical imbalance theory as a cause of mental illness. Here’s the story:
Cicada shrieks pierced the damp morning air as I entered the Whittle building, one of many psychiatric units on the grounds of Central State Hospital. The antiquated cooling system clanked in protest to the mounting summer heat. After reviewing a list of new arrivals I headed to the second floor psychiatric wards. A cacophony of voices echoed down the stairwell and an attendant was shouting.
“Show’s over, get back to your rooms,” he barked.
Across the day-room patients were milling around at the entrance to hallway four. I walked over to see what was going on when my nostrils were assaulted by an awful stench. Near the end of the hallway three attendants dragged a squirming patient into the shower room. I saw the psych nurse sitting at the attendant’s station and walked over. On the desk in front of her was a shattered syringe, its needle snapped.
“Got yourself a new paperweight?” I said pointing at the syringe.
“Of sorts,” she replied.
“What’s with all the commotion?”
“Ole Marvin redecorated the walls of his room last night. After patients began to complain of a mysterious stench, the night shift went to investigate. When they opened Marvin’s door they found him sitting naked in the middle of the floor, his hands covered with shit. He had painted a bunch of strange figures all over his room.”
I watched Janice prepare another syringe. She stuck its needle into a vial of milky liquid, brought it to eye level, filled the syringe then headed for shower room. I followed her as far as Marvin’s doorway and peered in. The smell receded into the background as I stared mystified by the distorted concentric circles, geometric figures and parallel squiggly lines smeared on the walls. A brown hand print was stamped near the baseboard seemingly as a signature. What was he thinking? What would possess someone to do something like this?
The next morning, the second floor still reeked of industrial disinfectant. Janice was at her desk sipping coffee and reviewing charts.
“How’s Marvin doing?” I asked.
“He was given another shot early this morning and he’s almost himself again.”
“So, who was he yesterday?” I asked.
“What do you mean who was he yesterday? What kind of question is that? He was out of his mind. Why do you ask such strange questions?”
“Don’t you ever wonder what psychotics are thinking when they do these bizarre things like this? What’s going through their minds?”
“They have a chemical imbalance in their brain, they’re hallucinating.”
“No shit? Have you ever ordered or seen psychiatry order any kind of lab work or any other kind of test to determine which chemicals in the patient’s brain are out of whack or by how much before pumping these people of anti-psychotic drugs?”
“Then how could they possibly know which chemicals in the patient’s brain are out of balance or by how much?”
“I wouldn’t know, Jerry. Dr. Grant should be in his office by now, why don’t you go ask him?”
Dr. Grant was sitting at his desk scribbling notes as I approached. I tapped on his door sill. He looked up and smiled, a pair of brown plastic glasses hung low over his nose. His hair was slicked back and glistened with grease.
“Hey Jerry, what’s up?” He said with a strong Cuban accent.
“I’ve got a question that’s been bothering me. I’ve asked several of our staff and they don’t seem to have an answer. Janice said to come ask you.”
“They say schizophrenia is caused by a chemical imbalance in the patient’s brain however I’ve never seen anyone do any lab test or any other kind of test to determine which chemicals are out of balance or by how much. Do you guys ever request any such tests?”
“Do such tests even exist?”
“If they do, they’re at the universities and pharmaceutical labs.”
“But if you don’t have them, how do you know which neurotransmitters are out of whack or even which drugs to prescribe to fix any such imbalance?”
“We see the results. The pharmaceutical companies have done the research and their representatives keep us updated.”
“So we’re relying solely on the pharmaceutical reps to tell us which of the dozens of neurotransmitters in the brain are out of balance since you don’t have access to such tests?”
“Yes and the drugs work. The symptoms do lessen. Is there anything else?”
“No. No that’s all. Thank you.”
Dr. Grant stared at me with a patronizing smile as I struggled to conceal my astonishment.
I couldn’t believe it. Trusting the pharmaceutical industry which was making billions a year selling these drugs claiming they somehow fixed some mysterious chemical imbalance was akin to trusting a fox to watch over the hen house. What I witnessed with regard to which anti-psychotic drugs should be utilized looked more like a scatter gun approach based entirely on the psychiatrist’s subjective evaluation. If the first drug tried didn’t work they would try another rotating through their entire arsenal until they stumbled upon the one that seemed work best. “Worked best” often translated to sedating the patient to the point where they didn’t cause staff problems.
I thought I’d look into this myself.
A storm was brewing outside the Georgia College library. Lightning flashed and lights flickered as rain pounded the windows. I was on a mission to gather all the information I could on anti-psychotic drugs when I was distracted by a couple of giggling females. I tracked a couple of shapely southern belles in skin tight jeans as they sashayed by. Southern Belles, they were as confounding a species of female as I’d ever encountered. At some point psychiatry had agreed having listed Southern Belle Syndrome in their directory of psychiatric disorders right up there with homosexuality. I suspected it was removed after the belles lashed out. The ladies boarded an elevator and I refocused my attention on the information before me.
“Historically, society has enthusiastically heaped blame on mothers for a variety of problems. In the 1940s, Austrian physician Leo Kanner hypothesized that the cause of autism spectrum disorder was a ‘genuine lack of maternal warmth’ from so-called ‘refrigerator mothers’. During the same time period, Sigmund Freud and other psychologists blamed schizophrenia on maternal rejection and a lack of attachment.”
When psychiatry’s mother blaming theory didn’t pan out they moved on to blame genetics but couldn’t find any proof for that either. Sigmund Freud (d. 1939) and his disciples had come to believe that schizophrenia resulted from unconscious conflicts originating in early childhood. As theory after theory faded for lack of support they have now muddied the waters with permutations of causes too complicated for the common man to comprehend.
The chemical imbalance theory of mental illness was posited by big pharma with the introduction of Prozac. They knew it was unsubstantiated information at the time but went with it anyway to promote sales. They moved on to include anti-psychotic drugs making it look like they had also invested millions of dollars in research into the development of anti-psychotic drugs when in fact this was not true.
The first major tranquilizers were discovered by accident in the labs of the dye industry in Europe after workers become lethargic when exposed to some of the chemicals being worked with. These were extracted and found useful in sedating psychiatric populations in the 1950’s, although at the time and nobody, including their manufacturers, had any idea how or why they worked. Failing any explanation as to why these drugs worked big pharma fabricated the “chemical imbalance theory.”
After years of research no objective evidence was found to support the chemical imbalance theory. Despite this, the pharmaceutical industry, psychiatry and the universities continue to promote this falsity. Shane Ellison a former drug research chemist at Eli Lilly said, “They are selling drugs to people under false premises under a disease that’s been invented. So how do you measure the efficacy among a disease that doesn’t even exist?”
“There is not a single peer-reviewed article that can be accurately cited to directly support claims of serotonin deficiency in any mental disorder, while there are many articles that present counter evidence,” Jeffery Lacasse, jonathan Leo, Serotonin and Depression. A disconnect between the advertisements and the scientific literature, PLOS medicine, November, 2005.
Two on line polls done by Anxiety center.com found that 90.5% of respondents said their Dr. wanted to prescribe meds for anxiety or depression. 71.5% were told by their Dr. that these conditions were due to a chemical imbalance. The best selling drugs to treat these conditions were bringing in 8.5 billion dollars a year into the big pharma coffers.
Apparently pushing their false chemical imbalance theory is preferable to admitting they have absolutely no idea as to the real cause of schizophrenia.
They perceived their fabricated explanations as rational which smacked of previous experiences I had in undergraduate and graduate school psychology. These academic programs were so spiritually dry they left me feeling like a man dying of thirst in the Sahara desert. Even then I was aware that man was a spiritual being, I was astonished that anything to do with spirituality, was utterly ignored. I saw the spiritual underpinnings of things via the work of Carlos Castaneda, and Milton Erickson, and the Christian mystic Emanuel Swedenborg. Their words stood above the volumes of dry academic theory and the mounds of non-repeatable psychological research. They offered a door to the existence and exploration of other worlds and if psychotics weren’t operating in another world, no one was. Long before completion of graduate school, Castaneda’s words had been burned into my memory:
“The world we see before us is merely a description of the world; a description that has been pounded into us from the moment we were born. The reality of our day to day life consist[s] of an endless flow of perceptual interpretations which we as individuals learned to make in common and share.”
One of the common perceptions currently being pushed by psychiatry and big pharma is the idea that mental illnesses are due to physical causes. They have developed a large number of psychotropic medications that suppress symptoms that don’t get to the root cause and cure nothing. Their behavior is analogous to the “Street Light” story. In this story a man lost his keys and was hunting for them under a streetlight for hours. A passerby noticing this asked him where he lost his keys. He replied, “Down the street.” The passerby asked, “Then why are you looking here?” He said, “This is the only place where there is light.”
Akin to the man searching under the streetlight who lost his keys elsewhere, psychiatry and big pharma see only drugs and mysterious physical causes for schizophrenia such as a chemical imbalance in the brain. They cannot fathom a serious disorder that has neither a physical cause nor a physical cure. As such they continue to look under the streetlight for physical causes with the same dismal results. They persist in telling schizophrenic patients that their voices are unreal hallucinations caused by a chemical imbalance in their brain and that they must stay on the toxic drugs they prescribe for the rest of their lives. In effect the establishment is prescribing medications that cause a slow and insidious deterioration of the brain and peripheral nervous system.
Science doesn’t recognize spirituality. They can’t test or measure it therefore they ignore it. They have ignored the millions of schizophrenics who repeatedly tell them their voices are very real. Outside their streetlight is a long historical precedent of looking to the spiritual world as a cause of mental illness dating back to prehistoric times.
For example there are 58 Bible verses about exorcism. There are twenty-five incidents in the Bible where Jesus casts out demons from deranged people, curing them. There are numerous scholars including Emanuel Swedenborg who have written volumes about how the spiritual world affects the physical.
Despite historical precedent the psychiatric establishment refuses to look down the street.