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It’s just mental

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The whole of modern psychiatry rests on the platform that mental illness is, in fact, mental – a sickness that occurs in the brain. Nowhere is this more evident than with depression, a catch-all term used to describe individuals who are excessively sad, listless and lacking in the will to carry on with life as usual.

This notion – that mental illness is essentially a sick brain – is the perfect justification for the current psychiatric approach to mental illness, with its armament of powerful drugs, surgery and electroshock.

In the 1990s, the sick brain theory reached its apex with the concept that depression amounted to a deficiency of the important neurotransmitter serotonin, and the cure for it was one of the class of antidepressant drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like Prozac, which are thought to increase the availability of serotonin.

The idea that depression was the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain was an ingenious marketing ploy by the drug companies, with absolutely no evidence to support it. But in the nearly 30 years since the release of SSRIs, the theory has gripped the whole of psychiatry, becoming its standard explanation for the illness and also its rationale for SSRI drug treatment.

In the US, antidepressant prescriptions doubled between 1996 and 2005, as they did throughout Western Europe; in the UK, for example, prescriptions for antidepressants – reaching 57 million in 2014 alone – increased fivefold since 1992, and were up by 7 percent from the previous year.

Although the depression business is booming for the drug industry, all this pill popping doesn’t reflect an increase in the patient population. The incidence of depression has remained steady over those 10 years that prescriptions doubled. Only drug use has grown.

But all this drug-taking hasn’t made one bit of difference. The latest evidence shows that antidepressants – at best – work no better than a placebo, and actually often make the problem worse. Antidepressants are increasingly given out to children and adolescents, despite stiff warnings from regulators about the drugs causing an increase in suicidal thoughts and actual suicide among this population. And among adults, those taking an antidepressant often suffer deeper and more frequent depressive episodes.

Luckily, a few brave psychiatrists are stepping forward and going public with the fact that psychiatric drugs of all varieties just don’t work. Jí_rgen Margraf and Silvia Schneider, professors of clinical psychology at Ruhr-University Bochum in Germany, claim that most psychiatric drugs for everything from anxiety to ADHD and even schizophrenia are having at best only short-term effects, but not curing the problem.

In this special issue on holistic treatments for depression, WDDTY argues that conventional psychiatry is largely correct in blaming body chemistry, but by limiting the cause to the brain itself, it is fingering the wrong culprit. Dr Pam Shervanick, an American psychiatrist, writes that, based on her experience, most cases of mental illness including depression are not mental, but rather the result of other biological imbalances.

For instance, some 200 other prescription drugs can cause depression. Sleeping pills and tranquilizers, certain heart drugs like beta blockers and blood pressure-lowering drugs, steroids, anticonvulsants, painkillers, statins and even drugs for indigestion – have long been linked to depression and risk of suicide.

Besides these drugs, as Celeste McGovern investigates (page 32), an underperforming thyroid, a diet without the right balance of fats, too-low levels of cholesterol, allergies to certain foods, low levels of certain micronutrients like B vitamins, especially folate and B12, or magnesium, zinc and selenium, and even dehydration can all cause crippling depression.

As Dr Shervanick says, depression starts elsewhere in the body – usually with some form of inflammation. Even environmental poisons like fluoride can wreak havoc with your body – and eventually your brain.

Clearly the answer to depression – and all forms of so-called mental illness – is to recognize that mental illness is simply the final symptom of a body out of balance. As part of our Special Report this month, we offer the most important tests to find out where it starts and the best ways to fix it.

Once the root causes are identified, it will become clear that depression isn’t all in your head – and neither is the solution to it.

Thinking otherwise is, well, just mental.

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