Editor’s note: Our friend Lönnrot offers some thoughts on a possible incipient change of scientific opinion. You can read another of his commentaries here.
The uncomfortable physical feeling associated with depression is caused by something that we might call “chemical imbalance” with tolerable accuracy. But what sits at the top of the causal chain is your brain’s judgment that your circumstances warrant a particular course of action. It then communicates this to the body by a particular ratio of the chemicals. The end product is the physical feeling.
Anxiety is when your brain determines that you are under so much constant, low-level danger that you must stay vigilant at all times, and rest only as much as is absolutely necessary for staying alive. Depression is when it determines that your circumstances are currently such that there is nothing you can really do, and that all activity that is not absolutely necessary for survival will increase your risk prohibitively. Hence, you must be strongly encouraged to stay passive, and in hiding.
If you try to hinder your brain’s efforts to create the state by disabling a certain functionality of the body, like SSRI’s do, your brain is just going to go, “The old methods don’t appear to be working. Funny that. Gotta send stronger depression signals, I guess.” Eventually it will find a way to get past the medicinal blockade.
Then, if you suddenly remove the blockade by quitting SSRI’s cold turkey, the absolute flood of signal strength that the brain is pushing because it’s been calibrated that way, will suddenly be the equivalent of something like having lived for a decade in the middle of war. And to that, the body has another function available, such that it will pretty much immediately trigger: Insanity.
I believe the kind of insanity that we would call just being stark raving mad, is your brain’s effort to separate your core personality from the stream of real-time events and store it away. So that the things you need to do in order to stay alive until circumstances improve, don’t create core memories and ruin your personality. Rather, it dissociates them apart.