Dear Mrs. ——–
You have asked me about the cause of your mood disorder, and whether it is due to a “chemical imbalance”. The only honest answer I can give you is, “I don’t know”—but I’ll try to explain what psychiatrists do and don’t know about the causes of so-called mental illness, and why the term “chemical imbalance” is simplistic and a bit misleading.
By the way, I don’t like the term “mental disorder”, because it makes it seem as if there’s a huge distinction between the mind and the body—and most psychiatrists don’t see it that way. I wrote about this recently, and used the term “brain-mind” to describe the unity of mind and body.1 So, for lack of a better term, I’ll just refer to “psychiatric illnesses.”
Now, this notion of the “chemical imbalance” has been much in the news lately, and a lot of misinformation has been written about it—including by some doctors who ought to know better 2. In the article I referenced, I argued that “…the “chemical imbalance” notion was always a kind of urban legend—never a theory seriously propounded by well-informed psychiatrists.”1 Some readers felt I was trying to “re-write history”, and I can understand their reaction—but I stand by my statement.
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