Depression: Not Caused by a Chemical Imbalance

A reader of medical research and the life sciences since 1966, Tessa often reports on the latest research in those fields for others.


Unhappiness and Depression

There have been all sorts of factors that have been correlated to depression—extreme stress, the loss of loved ones, unfulfilled dreams, bullying, various parts of the brain which are smaller than usual (amygdala, hippocampus, anterior cingulate cortex, certain sections of the prefrontal cortex), and some stomach bacteria. However, there has not been a single scientific study linking chemical imbalance of the brain with depression. Depression is defined as a loss of appetite, no energy, insomnia, and a sense of hopelessness or despair.


No Evidence that Depression Caused by Chemical Imbalance

Dr. Johanna Moncrieff, a leading British psychiatrist, states “no research has ever established that a particular brain state causes, or even correlates with, depression.” She further goes on to state that there are no leading psychiatrists who agree with the view that depression is caused by this accepted explanation. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders defines depression as feeling down for two weeks or more. As psychiatrist Dr. Ronald Pies states, the profession seems to have lost its comprehension of normal sadness. The bottom line is that if you have been in a stressful situation which you cannot resolve for a number of years, then depression is a likely result. It is not the outcome of a chemical imbalance in the brain.

A psychologist explains early patterning.

Questions about Depression

There have been too many correlations between sad situations or bad events and depression for it to have nothing to do with the condition. The biggest single common denominator for all those who are depressed is that they are in situations that they do not wish to be in. This could mean that they are working at a job that does not satisfy them, or it could mean that they are lonely, or it could mean that they are financially destitute. It doesn’t matter what the form of unhappiness is, it’s just common to all those who are depressed.

The question then becomes, “Why do people in good situations not get depressed?”

Another factor is that those countries where stress and overwork dominate have higher factors of depression. Greece, where people have a slow pace, has very low levels of depression.

The British Daily Mail recently published an article in which it said that British people suffered from the third highest rates of depression in the world. Unsurprisingly, the highest rates of depression were those who had limited education, low level jobs, and were in a lower socio-economic demographic.


Is the Brain Changed by Depression?

The current unproven theory is that depression is caused by a chemical imbalance. It may, however, be that great sadness and stress cause changes in the brain and elsewhere. It may also be true that when the sadness and stress are healed through psychotherapy, changing situations, hypnosis, etc., that the brain may return to its previous state.

At this point, these factors have never been investigated.

The Wrong Diagnoses

Allan Horwitz and Jerome Wakefield mention in their book The Loss of Sadness that, until very recently, sadness for appropriate situations was not considered a mental illness. Like many others, they point fingers at pharmaceutical companies which have a vested interest in getting people to believe that their unhappiness and stress is a result of a physiological condition. Pharmaceutical companies make billions out of the myth that depression is cured by pills. Unhappily, all these pills have major long term negative effects on the health of patients. To quote from the British Medical Journal, "More than half a million people aged above 65 years die from the use of psychiatric drugs every year in the Western world and the benefits would need to be “colossal” to justify these “immensely harmful” treatments, argues Gøtzsche, who is director of the Nordic Cochrane Centre, Denmark."

The truth is that studies have shown repeatedly that anti-depressants only ‘cure’ or ‘alleviate’ depression when a psychotherapist is seen. In other words, it’s the therapy that helps – not the medication.

There is also a study that shows that sugar has exactly the same effect on the brain as an anti-depressant does.

Dr. Timothy Scott Explains that chemical Imbalances do not cause depression!

Is There a Cure for Depression?

Nobody wants to be unhappy. The great lie going around is that people are unhappy as a result of something in their brain. What happens if they are simply unhappy as the result of something in their situation? Or, perhaps, there is something in a suppressed memory that is coloring their perception of their life? Sometimes, the unconscious mind buries memories so deeply that we do not even know what is troubling us. If this is true, how can we cure ourselves?

The Unconscious Mind

Think of the human unconscious mind as a vast library of folders. Each folder has numerous files. Each file has an initial template that all the other files base their criteria on. So, for instance, there’s a folder for going shopping and another folder for cooking food. There’s still another folder for going to work or school, plus folders for every conceivable type of event that there has been in your life.

Now each folder contains many files. Those files are all events which are pertinent to that folder. So the cooking food folder contains one file for all the times you burnt yourself while cooking while another file contains all your experiences where you cooked a fabulous meal enjoyed by everybody. Still another file contains all the different recipes you tried that elicited mockery, and so forth.

Now, in addition to that, every set of file has an initial file – the first incident that happened in that particular series of events. These files (experiences) are the templates for the rest of your future experiences. They dictate how you will respond in the future when those events occur. They are what psychologists call your ‘patterning.’

Let me share with you how they work.

Let’s pretend the very first time you were burnt on the stove, you were two years old. Your mother had told you not to go near the stove otherwise it would harm you. You disobeyed, and you were promptly burnt. You were, in fact, so badly burnt that you were rushed to hospital, and your mother was caught between deep concern for you and anger that you had disobeyed her.

Somehow, or other, because you were so young, you forgot that you had been burnt, and a few years later, the situation reoccurs. Throughout this time, your mother has always told you not to go near the stove. But one day, she is baking cookies, and while she steps out of the kitchen, you open the oven to grab a cookie, and you are burnt.

This time you are not burnt so seriously, but your mother is really angry with you, and she more or less bans you from the kitchen.

As you grow into your teens, you have very negative connotations about cooking or going into the kitchen. You have no interest in learning to cook.

Time passes and you get married. Initially finances are great and both of you eat out or buy ready-made food. Then you become pregnant, stop working, and it is decided you will stay home for a few years and look after the new-born. Part of your responsibility is to cook.

But you don’t want to cook. You have a terror of cooking. You begin to get angry when you have to go near the stove. You have no idea why. You aren’t even aware that you are all that negative about it.

That is patterning, and that’s what a template does.

We all have them, and none of us know what is in our templates. Not even counsellors. We simply can’t remember because most of it took place when we were completely unaware of incidents.


Trauma Overrides Old Patterning

Another interesting aspect of these templates that pattern us is that they can be overridden by intense situations. That could be intense happiness or intense trauma. This is what happens to people who develop PTSD. They either form new files because they have never experienced these events before or the old templates are rewritten with a new way to behave.

An example might be a person who has always loved going for coffee in a coffee shop. Her template (patterning) for coffee shops is very positive as it has always been associated with family, friends, and happy times. So the idea of going to a coffee shop brings happiness. Then one day, she walks into a terror attack. That experience overrides her previous patterning, and after that, any attempt to walk into a coffee shop brings up a danger signal.

Fortunately, all files with terrible experiences can be overwritten by happy experiences. It’s just very difficult to do.


Depression and Patterning

Sometimes depression has its roots in childhood from unhappy experiences at home. Other times it is a current ongoing situation that never seems to end. It could be as simple as ten years working in a job that destroys one’s soul or one that never leads promotion.

One has to find the source of the depression and 'cure' that. A pill does not cure it.

Living with Someone with Depression

Recently I moved into new digs and one of my roommates spent the first month either in bed or in front of her computer (about three feet away from her bed). She had no energy or inclination to do anything.

Things came to a head and she called her psychiatrist as her antidepressants weren’t working. He wanted her to check into a clinic where they could evaluate her medication. She wasn’t happy about doing that, and it was at that point that I asked her to listen to some HPP recordings I had in my possession.


HPP Recordings by Dr. Lloyd Glaubermann

I first started using HPP recordings in 1993, and they changed my life, but that’s another story. Since then, from time to time, I have shared them with others, and with one exception, they have changed other lives as well.

It was interesting to see the effect on my roommate. The very next morning she was out of bed and made herself a meal. During the next week, she was up every day and managed to finish projects, do the dishes, cook food, have a shower, get dressed, etc. My only instruction to her was that she had to listen to the recordings once or twice every day.

It has now been about two weeks, and she has not once reverted to staying in bed. She is quite different, and there is no more talk of her antidepressants not working. She admits it was the recordings.

HPP recordings are a subtle form of hypnosis which overrides bad experiences. They are created by Dr. Lloyd Glaubermann from New York.

So How Did Hypnosis Work?

Essentially, the old patterning was simply recorded over, and instead of having negative templates, she now had sufficient positive templates to get out of bed and do something.

Of course, some people have far more traumatic patterning than others. For myself, I used Glaubermann’s recordings for three hours every day for six months. The difference in my own life was so profound that I wrote to him. Within five days of my beginning to listen to them, my boss told me that my walk had changed, my mother told me my voice had changed, and my clients told me that my manner had changed.

What Other Methods Can be Used to Reach the Unconscious Mind?

I have used lucid dreaming techniques to find out what stops me from doing things. Before I went to sleep at night, I would spend fifteen minutes in a deep state of meditation instructing my deep unconscious to provide the information I required in my dreams. When I woke in the morning, that information would be there. I would then design something with which to override that patterning and go to sleep in a state of deep concentration to wipe out that old patterning. What would happen is that I would enter a state of lucid dreaming (awake while I was asleep) and would eradicate old patterning. I have used this technique many times in my life and it is very effective.

So Can Your Depression be Cured?

It really depends on what is causing it.

If it is your situation, you have to change your situation. A bad job, too little money, family that makes you unhappy, and other negative situations are not going to go away. You have to walk away from them and find another way. In this day and age, as a result of the deeply complex societies we live in, it is extremely difficult to change our situations, regardless of any advice to 'just believe' or 'be positive.' We often need the kind of help that provides us with tangible resources and some creative thinking. It also doesn't help when the conflict involves love/hate situations and we have to walk from them.

If it is deep patterning from the past, you have to use methods that access that and re-pattern the old templates.

Of course, there are also other causes. We don’t know them all, but the only thing that appears to be generally common to most people who suffer from depression is that they are in an unhappy situation, and it has more to do with the situation than with a supposed imbalance in the brain.


Leonard Mlodinow. How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behaviour. First Vintage Books. 2012. 2013.

Sigmund Freud. Introduction to Pychoanalysis. 1917. 1973.

Stephen S. Ilardi. The Depression Cure. First Du Capo Press. 2010. 2012.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.


Tessa Schlesinger (author) on December 06, 2017:

Yes, I can see that needs to read a bit better. I will fix that.

Every single professional I have spoken to, plus what I read, indicated that chemical imbalance was present at birth. In other words, depression was caused by imbalance - not imbalance caused by depression. I provided sources for my conclusions.

Ria Bridges from New Brunswick on December 06, 2017:

Your article didn't make it clear that you were referring to an imbalance present at birth, for one thing. Many sections of what you wrote sounded an awful lot like you were saying a chemical imbalance in general doesn't cause depression, which I agreed with to a point, and clarified by saying it's more like depression is the imbalance rather than an underlying cause. (Though after a time, changes made to brain structure and chemistry might be high contributors to relapsing cases of depression; the damage may already be done at that point.)

Your line about no investigation being done on certain factors came across as misleading when under the header, "Is the brain changed by depression?" Some of that may be misinterpretation on my part, I'll grant you, but it really did sound to me like you were saying that no research has been done into whether the brain is changed by depression based on factors like stress, neurochemistry, etc.

Tessa Schlesinger (author) on December 06, 2017:

I am totally flumoxed. I have no idea what you think I am saying but you're saying that I'm saying what I am not saying.

I am saying that the brain is changed by depression, and not the other way round.

The theory is that one is born with a chemical imbalance, and this is what causes depression.

Ria Bridges from New Brunswick on December 06, 2017:

"The current unproven theory is that depression is caused by a chemical imbalance. It may, however, be that great sadness and stress cause changes in the brain and elsewhere. It may also be true that when the sadness and stress are healed through psychotherapy, changing situations, hypnosis, etc., that the brain may return to its previous state.

At this point, these factors have never been investigated."

These are your words, under the section, "Is the brain changed by depression." But I suppose if you didn't even bother reading my comment, you would have utterly skipped the part where I gave evidence that this was untrue. Not to mention, you literally just said you didn't say the thing you said, so...

Tessa Schlesinger (author) on December 05, 2017:

Adrian Bridges, I didn't bother to finish reading your comments for the following reason. You clearly did not read my article. It states quite clearly " It may, however, be that great sadness and stress cause changes in the brain and elsewhere. It may also be true that when the sadness and stress are healed through psychotherapy, changing situations, hypnosis, etc., that the brain may return to its previous state."

I am fully aware that intense stress and unhappiness can cause the human brain (and body) to change. However, that is not the same thing as saying that depression is caused by an inate imbalance of chemicals in the brain.

Ria Bridges from New Brunswick on December 05, 2017:

I'm going to respectfully disagree on some points here. While the root cause of depression may not be a sporadic biochemical change, it is understood by medical science that long exposure to stress causes neurochemical imbalances, such as with cortisol and serotonin, in addition to the brain processing these chemicals differently. I suppose maybe it's best to say that depression isn't caused by a chemical imbalance so much as depression IS a chemical imbalance resulting from a multitude of potential factors.

As for the assertion that nobody has investigated whether the brain changes due to depression, that's simply untrue. There's volume reduction in the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC29509... different chemical systems in the brain are alternately hyporesponsive or hyperresponsive (https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/717972_2), and reduced blood flow to the frontal lobe and basal ganglia (https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/717972_2).

There's a lot of science on this issue. Sometimes depression is entirely situation and can improve with the resolution of a pressing stressful issue. Other time, there are genetic predispositions to consider that may make somebody more prone to depression in a situation that would not make somebody else experience depression. There is not one singular cause of depression, other than that it seems to be an abnormal response to stress. But to imply that there is no neurochemical disruption or imbalance is misleading, and to say outright that no investigation has been done into physiological changes in the brain is just plain false.

Breelyn on September 17, 2017:

Love this article. I have struggled with depression for as long as I can remember, my childhood was not the greatest. So I think it is helpful that you point out that dealing with the root of the problem is where healing begins. Antidepressants help manage depression, but they do not cure it. Thank you for writing this.

Related Articles