Recently (July 20, 2022) a new study was released stating that there is no evidence that depression is caused by low serotonin levels. Mental health professionals are DEFINITELY talking about it, and it's only a matter of time before it makes its way to the mainstream where EVERYONE will be talking about it. There is already so much shame and stigma associated with depression and taking medication. As a therapist and a human who experiences depression, this raised a lot of questions that I've been chewing on both professionally and personally. My hope is that this blog stops the potential shame spiral that will likely happen with this new information.
It is so important that we pause, take a moment, and go back to the basics.
What we (mental health professionals) do know is that there is not one single cause of depression. There's a variety of different factors that can play into a diagnosis and/or symptoms of depression. Some (not all) of these factors are things like:
Brain function (keep reading)
What's extremely important to note, it's going to look different for everyone.
Currently, SSRI's (selective serotonin reuptake inhibiters; i.e., Zoloft, Celexa, Prozac, Lexapro...) are the most commonly prescribed antidepressants...and they work for lots of people. However, they aren't the only prescribed antidepressants nor is serotonin the only neurotransmitter that has been linked to depression (e.g., dopamine and norepinephrine). So brain functioning still can be a factor at play when it comes to depression, but what does this mean for serotonin and SSRI's?
Well, we (mental health professionals) also know that combined treatment of medication AND psychotherapy is more effective than medication alone in treating depression. This new study supports this very idea. How so? It really leans into the holistic approach to well-being. Medication (SSRI's included) CAN be a piece of the puzzle, and there are many other pieces (RE: the list above). Perhaps (this is me being curious y'all) SSRI's are somehow playing a part in supporting some of the other pieces, having an indirect effect on depression. But what do we do with these other pieces?
Ultimately, this study encourages us all to take a step back, look at the whole picture, take a deep dive into ALL the factors that may be contributing to depression, and explore how you can work with these challenges. And this is EXACTLY what we can do in therapy. Just like the factor(s) that are at the root of depression look different for everyone, the ways in which to manage the challenges will too. In my work as a therapist, I utilize a holistic approach with emphasis on the mind/body/spirit alliance. My clients strengthen their relationship with self, gain more self-compassion, confidence, and direction, feeling better equipped to navigate life's transitions and challenges. In my work as a human (yes, I call it work because it is ongoing), I have found this approach tough, yet life changing, in managing depression. Remember, you are the expert on you AND you are not alone.
Please note that I recognize therapy isn't the answer to everything, for everyone, or even accessible or affordable. While there are some wonderful resources out there to address some of these challenges, as always, we've got a long way to go to provide quality mental health care.