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The Chemical Imbalance Myth and Antidepressant Harm

Analysis by Dr. Joseph Mercola Fact Checked

depression chemical imbalance myth

Story at-a-glance -

  • An estimated 17.3 million American adults (7.1% of the adult population), experienced at least one major depressive episode in 2017. The highest rates are reported among those aged between 18 and 25
  • The vast majority are prescribed antidepressant drugs, despite the fact there’s virtually no evidence to suggest they provide meaningful help, and plenty of evidence showing the harms are greater than patients are being told
  • Hundreds of thousands of toddlers are also being medicated with powerful psychiatric drugs, raising serious ethical questions, along with questions about the future mental and physical health of these children
  • There’s no scientific evidence to suggest depression is the result of a chemical imbalance in your brain. A lot of the evidence suggests unhealthy living conditions are at the heart of the problem
  • Antidepressants are not beneficial in the long term and antipsychotic drugs worsen outcomes over the long term in those diagnosed with psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia

In the U.S., an estimated 17.3 million American adults (7.1% of the adult population), experienced at least one major depressive episode in 2017. The highest rates are reported among those aged between 18 and 25. However, not only is there evidence that depression is vastly overdiagnosed, but there's also evidence showing it's routinely mistreated.

With regard to overdiagnosis, one 2013 study found only 38.4% of participants with clinician-identified depression actually met the DSM-4 criteria for a major depressive episode, and only 14.3% of seniors 65 and older met the criteria.


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