Low serotonin may not cause depression


The article for which I am writing this summary is about how the medical research has contributed to the change of perception about the causes of depression. Initially, it was suggested by medical research that Serotonin could be the only and primary cause of depression. The deficiency of serotonin was pointed out to be adding to depression. But when further research was conducted, it was suggested that serotonin may not be the only culprit in causing depression. Due to the success of drugs related to elevating serotonin, depression was treated with these drugs for years but then scientists realized that they need to look beyond just serotonin. They started to look for more evidence and genetic causes were also identified. This article tells us the whole story of depression, the research into its causes and how it has been treated over the years.

Article Summary

Spiegel (2012) has provided a detailed account of the happenings related to her years in depression. When she was 17 she had felt her mood to change and it felt her empty inside. This is when her mother took her to a psychiatrist who told her that she may have some chemical imbalance in her body and this is causing her to have a depressed mood. She was prescribed with anti-depressant drugs, Prozac and sent home.

Serotonin imbalance has been considered as the main cause of depression up till the late last century but the perception is shifting. According to Dr. Joseph Coyle, who is a professor of neuroscience at Harvard Medical School, depression is much more complicated condition than something that is just caused by a chemical imbalance. There are many other people who have the same view but how depression is treated remains that same for decades, and that is with the help of anti-depressant drugs. Why is it so? We have to go back to the 50s when a psychiatrist, Ronald Kuhn gave a newly developed drug to 10 patients and the results were enormous. The people almost got their ruined lives back. Due to an absence of other drugs to treat depression, anti-depression drugs became the primary way to treat it.

Anti-depression drugs have also been evolving and improving, but this evolution is not in increasing their effects primarily, but decreasing their side effects. For example the introduction of Prozac in 1987 did just this. These drugs started to target serotonin selectively and hence decreased the side effects of such a drug. Its wide use was due to this characteristic of limited side effects. We cannot deny the help that we have got from these drugs but these drugs do not completely cure depression. They instead create a balance of serotonin in the brain for some limited time for which these drugs are in action. A patient of depression has to use the drug for ever.

Scientists who believe that we need to go beyond serotonin argue that we cannot deny the fact that some issue in the serotonin control system in the brain causes depression, but this is not the whole and only story. What causes that system to dysfunction is what needs to be looked at closely and this is where we can start to have effective treatment for depression.

Delgado, who conducted an experiment on normal people by depleting them of serotonin in 1990s, suggests that no depression was caused in these people. This experiment suggests that serotonin may not even be a real cause of depression. It could be something special about the depression patient who are meant to have depression in either case, low or normal serotonin. Though the results of this experiment may suggest against focusing on serotonin in relation to the treatment of depression, we still see many people focusing on serotonin when researching and treating depression. This focus may be a cause of less research into other causes of depression, i.e. the genetic causes of depression, according to some critics.

The article has discussed many point of views related to the relation of serotonin to depression, the causes and treatment of depression and has concluded that finding f acts  about the actual causes of depression is much more complicated than initially thought. The fact that people are given anti depression drugs and the way they like them are because they have a psychological and visible effect on these patient. When these patients and the society sees these effects, the question of whether there are any more causes of depression and how they can be treated become almost irrelevant. The real story is that progress has been made, but the real cause of depression is not yet know and may not be known for some time.

My reaction to the article

Over the years, whenever I have heard of depression, I have come to know that the only treatment of depression is anti-depressant drugs. I always thought that the only cause of depression was the chemical imbalance in the brain and never heard or thought about other causes of depression. I was really surprised to know, from this article that there is a lot more to depression. For example the genetic causes of depression are really important to study so that we might know which genes may be causing depression and how do we need to change the way it is treated now. It really concerns me that scientist, till recent past have only been focusing on developing drugs to treat depression and not digging deep into the actual causes. This could well be due to the commercial interests of pharmaceutical companies. Depression is a wide spread condition across the world and it is pertinent to focus on finding ways to know its causes and effectively evolve strategies to manage this condition.




Spiegel, A. (2012). When It Comes To Depression, Serotonin Isn’t The Whole Story. NPR.org.     Retrieved 11 October 2017, from http://www.npr.org/sections/health-       shots/2012/01/23/145525853/when-it-comes-to-depression-serotonin-isnt-the-whole-  story