Responses to the ‘No Chemical Imbalance Study’: A Long-awaited Watershed Moment?

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Initial reactions to the 20 July publication of the Moncrieff et al. study have included widespread media coverage in some places, and the metaphorical equivalent of crickets in others.

Here in Canada, even with some prodding, mainstream media coverage can’t even be described as tepid. CBC News published an article, but (so far) I have not heard of anything being released by any of the other major Canadian media outlets. Unfortunately this isn’t surprising. History shows us that where mental health is concerned, Canadian journalism tends to be cautious and safe, and more often than not aligns with (or at the very least, seems intent on not offending) those who work according to the dominant biomedical discourse.

In a primarily publicly funded (at least for now) health care system such as ours, there are numerous competing agendas. Honest disclosure will reveal four primary agendas: political, professional, corporate, and patient care. After close to three decades working in mental health care, it’s been my experience that the ‘patient care’ agenda most often comes in 4th place on the priorities list. When considering the power of the other three agendas, alongside the enmeshed relationship that exists between the media and mental health systems, it may not be surprising that Canadian coverage of one the biggest mental health news stories of the last 40+ years has been this disinterested.

Looking beyond Canadian publications, the online conversations that have been taking place since the release of Moncrieff et al.’s monumental review has been quite extraordinary. In many cases, exchanges have been intense and heated, revealing professional and personal allegiances. As a reader who occupies numerous positions (clinician, academic, psych survivor) I’ve been particularly disturbed by the responses coming from those who are defending the practices of, and positions held by, psychiatry. It seems for many of these individuals, there is little consideration being given to the reality that real people have been seriously harmed by the decades long perpetuation of the myth of the chemical imbalance.

Taken together, and read in the chronological sequence of their publication, the unfolding story being told, feels quite remarkable. The following is a list of some of the response pieces that have been posted so far:

21 July, by Joanna Moncrieff: Systematic umbrella review finds no evidence that serotonin abnormalities are associated with depression (but don’t stop your drugs suddenly)

24 July by Joanna Moncrieff: How to take the news that depression has not been shown to be caused by a chemical imbalance

3 August by Joanna Moncrieff: ‘First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you …’*

9 August by Karin Jervert & Marnie Wedlake: Loss, Grief, and Betrayal: Psychiatric Survivors Reflect on the Impact of New Serotonin Study

13 August by Robert Whitaker: Psychiatry, Fraud, and the Case for a Class-Action Lawsuit

15 August by Joanna Moncrieff & Mark Horowitz: The BMJ – Antidepressants and the serotonin hypothesis of depression – Rapid Response: Why it is important to discuss what antidepressants do

20 August by Robert Whitaker: “Holy Shit!” Psychiatry’s Cognitive Dissonance on Display

It’s still early days, and this exchange is far from over, but could this be the watershed moment many of us have been hoping for and working to enable?