Psycho-Babble Medication | about biological treatments | Framed
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About the phrase Chemical Imbalance

Posted by Racer on July 11, 2005, at 12:35:39

In reply to Life is a chemical imbalance, posted by so on July 11, 2005, at 12:00:04

OK, since Scott pointed out that you won't find the phrase "Chemical Imbalance" in the scientific literature, I figured it was worth offering another two cents worth on the phrase itself...

I believe that it's used because of the stigma surrounding mental illness. Rather than a doctor trying to convince a patient that a mental illness like depression or bipolar is *not* just a character flaw, which might involve hours of discussions that lead nowhere, I think a lot of energy has been focussed on reinforcing the belief that these disorders are "real" in the sense that something like diabetes is real. Saying that there's an imbalance in the brain's chemical messengers can make it easier to convince someone to take a medication, even if that person wouldn't ever agree to take a "happy pill" or an antidepressant, simply because he or she won't cop to a mental illness.

Now, those of us on this board are not the average psychotropic drug takers, and certainly not the average SSRI takers. We are a sub-group who have chosen to educate ourselves about our medications, for whatever individual reasons we have for that choice, and we are generally not people who respond adequately to the first anti-depressant tried. (Or, in some cases, to the eighth anti-depressant tried, but that's another story...) I don't think we can use our own experiences as the norm.

Years back, I told a doctor that I needed to understand what was being prescribed to me, because depression was complex, and just being given a pill didn't work. She told me that, for most of her patients taking anti-depressants, they didn't *want* to know anything more than "take this pill daily" -- they didn't want to be involved in their care beyond taking their pills. That was a real shock to me, as you can imagine. It's worth keeping in mind, though, that a lot of people don't want to be involved in decision making about their care, and don't want to know anything beyond how many pills to take and when.

So, "chemical imbalance" is a handy phrase to be trotted out for many patients who can benefit from anti-depressants, and even handier for those people who know they need the meds, but can't bring themselves to try to explain it to others, because of the stigma attached.




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