Thursday, November 02, 2006

"Educational" Materials

The following packet, New Technologies in the Treatment of Mood Disorders, available free on the DBSA website has a couple doozies that bear mention. Let’s go through them…

(a) “Scientists believe that depression and bipolar disorder are caused by an imbalance of brain chemicals, called neurotransmitters. Medications used to treat these illnesses work to change brain chemistry and correct this imbalance.”

The problem: There is, at best, scant evidence of any reliable neurotransmission deficit in depression and bipolar disorder. There may indeed be a so-called “chemical imbalance,” but research has yet to find one. Please feel free to read a highly excellent article regarding this topic here.

(b) Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) is mentioned, which in and of itself is fine. The brochure briefly describes the treatment.

The problem: It mentions that TMS “…helps correct the existing chemical imbalance,” which would be fine if there was indeed an identifiable chemical imbalance, which there is not.

The other problem: The info packet mentions that “Production of this brochure has been made possible by a grant from Neuronetics.” Neuronetics is the big name in TMS therapy devices. Neuronetics provides a little cash and DBSA discusses their treatment as a means of alleviating a chemical imbalance to a wide audience of people who likely either have a mood disorder or know someone who does.

What’s my beef with the chemical imbalance? The more that people believe depression is caused by some sort of chemical imbalance, the more likely it is they will seek biological treatments, which in comparison to psychotherapy show roughly equal results in the short-term and much poorer results in the long-term. Likewise, psychotherapy seems to be free of the various side effects associated with biological treatments.

Here's what some will say: “You're trying to question DBSA's motives -- how dare you! Mood disorders are terrible illnesses and DBSA helps support people with these illnesses.” My response: I'm not questioning anyone's character. I'm pointing out that Neuronetics funded this packet and within the packet is an unsubstantiated claim about TMS alleviating a chemical imbalance. I think it is great that DBSA is supporting people. However, just because an organization has many noble members who wish to support people, that is not a free pass. If a noble organization is describing information inaccurately, then someone should point that out regardless of the good intentions of their membership.

1 comment:

Marissa Miller said...

Hmm... I'll probably e-mail you privately later since I can't access my gmail at work, but I'd like to know your personal opinion on what causes depression?