Depression – Not a physical illness!

Justin Brown published an article on 18th September 2017  with the title “scientists believe they’ve found the real physical cause of depression”. This article, since the day of it’s debut, has been circling around various social media platforms. It’s surprising and more importantly worrisome to see that many people seem to be buying into this article. Before going into details, here is a link to give you a brief idea on what depression exactly is:  Why Depression Is A Serious Issue?

Here are some key points which Justin talks about in his article ( These sentences are not edited and are quoted exactly the way they are in his article):

  1. “We have been told that depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain and antidepressants work by balancing chemicals like serotonin called neurotransmitters that affect mood and emotions. But as we all know, it’s notoriously difficult to find antidepressants that works”.
  2. “No wonder! Depression is not a mental illness; it’s a physical illness. And according to some recent papers it can be alleviated by treating inflammation”.
  3. “I feel a raw madness rising up in me. Think of the hours spent unraveling non-existent psychological ‘problems’; the money wasted on counseling; not to speak of the harmful effects of the antidepressant drugs themselves”.
  4. “Hopefully the whole “depression” issue will be reframed as a condition that has an underlying physical cause, setting millions of people free from an unnecessarily worrying about some mental condition and the possible psychological causes for it”.

To argue against  the first point, I will let research do the talking!  Ollini Et Al., conducted a meta-analysis ( a study that combines multiple scientific results) on the effectiveness of antidepressants.  Trials comparing two or more doses of the same antidepressant were located, and all antidepressants administered were converted to the equivalent dose imipramine. Generalized equations were then estimated to calculate the percentage of improvement and adverse event rate according to dose level.

Thirty-three studies were identified in their meta-analysis. The dose level 100-200 mg imipramine showed an average improvement of mental well-being by 53% in depressed participants. This shows that anti-depressants have more than half a chance to work on participants.

Yes, anti-depressants may not work on all patients and that’s where counselling helps. In the third point, Justin claims that hours spent in counselling are a waste of time.  There is no evidence that says, going to counselling shows no significant evidence – in fact, counselling is perhaps one of the most effective ways of treatment.

Bower, Roland and Hardy in 2003 published a reviewed article about the clinical effectiveness on counselling. Their literature reviewed search found seven trials comparing counselling with anti-depressants provided by general  practitioners . The result they found was that counselling techniques such as CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy)  showed greater significance in improvement in majority of the patients who were diagnosed with chronic depression.

To conclude by saying that depression is caused by physical illness and not a mental illness is preposterous. If Justin’s argument is right, how then would you explain the effect of placebo (a fake drug) in experiments. Placebos have been used widely by various researchers to see improvements in the moods of depressed patients. Placebo studies have shown us how the mind can be tricked and how various mental disorders and even physical symptoms or injuries can be treated when your brain believes that a treatment given to you is expected to work.

Professor Ed Bullamore may have found a correlation between inflammation and depression – however, concluding on this sole fact ,which is just an association between two variables and changing the definition of depression is hideous.  A strong correlation does not equal to causation!

Edited by: Keerthana Suresh 


Reference (featured image)

Effectiveness of antidepressants: an evidence myth constructed from a thousand randomized trials? (2008).Philosophy, ethics, and humanities in medicine : PEHM., 3(1), 14. doi:10.1186/1747-5341-3-14

ollini, P., Pampaliona, S., Tibaldi, G., Kupelnick, B., & Munizza, C. (1999). Effectiveness of antidepressants: Meta-analysis of dose-effect relationships in randomised clinical trials. British Journal of Psychiatry, 174(4), 297-303. doi:10.1192/bjp.174.4.297

BOWER, P., ROWLAND, N., & HARDY, R. (2003). The clinical effectiveness of counselling in primary care: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Psychological Medicine33(2), 203-215. ( Justin browns article)


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