What’s The REAL Cause of Depression and Anxiety? (Hint: It’s Rarely a “Chemical Imbalance”)

The last time I was truly depressed was 23 years ago, yet almost every time I see a doctor, they suggest I take antidepressants.  They push them for everything from stress to headaches to foot pain to insomnia to hot flashes, even though I tell them, again and again, that (short of imminent death) I wouldn’t dream of taking them.

I treasure my brain chemistry. After a radical recovery from depression and anxiety in 1994, I know how precious and delicate it really is. It allows me to know things, to have intuition, to sense when I have made a mistake, when I’ve been wronged, and when something good is in front of me. I trust my brain, and I stay busy showing other people how to develop inner trustworthiness as well.

There are many simple, proven strategies to treat depression and anxiety, yet the myth that depression is caused by a “chemical imbalance” has driven three decades of progressively growing (and not very effective) mass-medication of the population.

More than a quarter of middle-aged women in the U.S. are on antidepressants, and more than one in seven people overall! Even little kids are on pills — more than 10% of them. I am not a scientist, therapist or doctor. And I do know that for some people, medication has been a literal lifesaver. But this many people taking that many drugs cannot be a good thing.


The explosion of antidepressants started in the late 80’s when Prozac hit the market, followed by a long series of ever-more-profitable rivals. The new drugs arrived just as health insurance plans began to cut mental health benefits, creating demand for a quicker, cheaper fix than long-term therapy, which had previously been reimbursable to mental health providers, but now, was not.

And, psychoactive meds are not without benefits for many people; it feels good to help to suffering people feel better. So the incentives for liberal prescribing began to pile up for clinicians who might once have been reluctant to suggest mind-altering pills to SO many people.

At first this shift from face-to-face care to pills caused a public outcry, but soon we all embraced this thinking too. We started to see beautiful families in colorful gardens, advertising antidepressants on TV.  First we all laughed at the machine gun dislclaimers at the end of each ad, warning us of diarrhea, tremors, dry mouth and sudden death. But soon, we tuned it out. We just accepted the idea that millions of us just needed “a little tweak” to be “our best self.” It sounds so right, so plausible, so normal.

But here’s the thing. We’re talking about drugs with less-then-great effectiveness and serious known side effects (suicidal thoughts/attempts, loss of libido, and rapid weight gain, for example), and a slew of possible correlations with things like mass-shootings, road-rage, relationship failure and a contaminated water table.

Again, I want to acknowledge that some people really do have serious depression, anxiety and other mental health problems, and that medication is life-changing and life-saving. I know many such people, what with living in Berkeley, which is something of a Mecca for the mentally ill. All the same, the medication epidemic is having a terrible effect on us overall — specifically on our culture, and on our understanding of how to meet life’s problems, to sense our effect on others, and to develop our own capacity to live meaningful and joyous lives.

It is my experience — in myself and the hundreds of others whom I’ve helped in my non-professional calling as a childhood trauma “fairy” — That most depression and anxiety (and many physical health problems for that matter) stem from guilt, shame, resentment and fear. These spiritual toxins have a physiological expression, and poison our thinking, our behavior, our physical health and yes, our brain chemistry. Whether outside people and events had a hand in damaging us like this, they can’t fix it now. It is we who have the opportunity to face what was done to us as well as what we have done, and how this has affected us, and to beginning cleaning up our lives.

For me, it started with a daily practice to get some calm in my heart and mind. I explain that here. In the coming weeks, I’ll explain more getting free from poison emotions, recognizing self-defeating behaviors that make depression and anxiety worse, and rebuilding your life.

Thanks for reading!

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4 thoughts on “What’s The REAL Cause of Depression and Anxiety? (Hint: It’s Rarely a “Chemical Imbalance”)”

  1. Hi CCF,

    This post polarizes me some because I agree that many physicians are quick to prescribe meds, but in my experience when they do, a person isn’t needing a ‘little tweaking’. Depression is a scary-ass thing, and many of us have comorbids that make treatment harder (me: Tourettes and with that OCD). I think the physicians have a responsibility to get their patients into therapy and psychiatric care if they are going the medication route, but again, at least in the small town where I live it can take six months to get into a mental health practitioner.

    With all this said, I’m currently questioning my meds – do I really need them? Because they are generally working, it’s easy to say I’m probably fine without them. But when I think back to when I didn’t take them… Yikes.

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comment Jeff. Personal experience is credible, period. I hope my caveats were strong enough, expressing my support for people who are helped by meds. What I’m questioning is not whether they are ever appropriate; rather, it’s the paradigm that drives prescribing to 1 in 4 women, or 1 in 10 children, 1 in 7 people overall.

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