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RCSI Psychiatry and The Serotonin Myth

Yesterday the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) launched an eBook entitled ‘journey through the brain‘ – to explore ‘the science of the brain and its connection to human emotion, mental health and well-being’. Created by researchers from the Dept of Psychiatry, the book was designed to help young people and teachers ‘understand the workings of the brain through pictures and cartoons’. The Irish Times Magazine reports that the book brings us ‘up to speed with with the latest research into the mysterious workings of our little gray cells’. This latest research from the RCSI (ranked as one of the top Universities in Europe), was designed to help us understand neuroscience and mental health – what could be better?
Much to my disgust, the book once again pushes the unfounded chemical imbalance theory, stating ‘there is evidence for decreased levels of serotonin in the synapse of people suffering from depression’. As copies will be distributed to second level schools throughout Ireland, rather than being educational, it’s actually providing a tool for misinformation. It’s not the first time the psychiatry department has publicly expressed a belief in the now-debunked chemical imbalance myth (see Tweet here) and it’s not the first time I have challenged it within the College. As a mature student in the RCSI, I thought I could point out this obvious, very sloppy, error and they would address and amend their mistake forthwith – alas, I’m still waiting for a response to last year’s query.
No doubt you may be wondering why I feel I’m right and the experts in RCSI Psychiatry have got it wrong? I’m open to contradiction and would be delighted to see this ‘evidence’ of low serotonin – a veritable medical revolution. However, in anticipation of debate and as previous experience had shown there was little necessity for haste, this time I took the liberty of asking the experts to confirm that the above statement is, in fact, rubbish.
David Healy, psychiatrist, psychopharmacologist, scientist and author confirmed that yes, the low-serotonin theory is rubbish. He said rather than learning about neuroscience, readers will instead be ‘dupes of marketing’. His recent BMJ article ‘Serotonin and Depression’ provides greater clarity.
Peter C. Gøtzsche, physician, medical researcher, leader of the Nordic Cochrane Center and co-founder of the Cochrane collaboration – yep, rubbish (and a very harmful lie, as it keeps people on drugs they would rather stop).

Robert Whitaker, medical & science journalist and author – yep, ‘total nonsense’. He referred to a much-cited article by well-known U.S. psychiatrist, Ronald Pies (former editor of The Psychiatric Times), who opined “In the past 30 years, I don’t believe I have ever heard a knowledgeable, well-trained psychiatrist make such a preposterous claim, except perhaps to mock it”.

So there you have it; not since the days of shoulder-pads and leg-warmers has Professor Pies heard such preposterous claims, yet in 2016 the RCSI Dept of Psychiatry are still sticking to the low-serotonin mantra.

I should point out, that as a mature student, studying in the RCSI is an amazing experience. I love the camaraderie there, and the integrity of the lecturers (and students) is unquestionable. There are even a couple of perfectly nice psychiatrists. However, there is no excuse for ‘educating’ people in a ‘chemical-imbalance’ basis of depression – despite vast research, it remains unproven. Furthermore, it gives vulnerable people the impression that they have an inherent deficiency, one that only drugs can fix. This dangerous propaganda is a theory invented by industry, a very lucrative one and one that has no scientific basis whatsoever.

Recently the RCSI was given the task of defining ‘Medical Professionalism’ in order to achieve excellence in education. Entrusted into the hands of RCSI psychiatrist, Prof Kieran Murphy – a very fine document emerged. One criterion, is that medics exercise ‘evidence-based-practice’. So, with the repeated spouting of chemical imbalances and low serotonin, could it be that there is a different set of rules for the RCSI’s Dept of Psychiatry? Perhaps evidence-based-practice does not apply to this particular medical field.


8 thoughts on “RCSI Psychiatry and The Serotonin Myth”

  1. Greetings Leonie,You’re back! I’m glad there’s someone as well informed as you slugging away on behalf of all the ill informed GPs and misdiagnosed clients out there. At first glance Journey Through the Brain looks like a worthy attempt to fill a void in the Health Education of schoolchildren. Something to raise awareness of the normality of life’s challenges and encourage the development of appropriate coping skills. It’s arrived on the scene a little late for the start of a new school year – but maybe it can sneak into the curriculum by virtue of it’s connection with The Royal College of Surgeons – a greatly respected establishment. It’s unfortunate that the science bit the authors rely on is the same old BS that’s been discredited by the experts you mention and others for some time now. Also the science bit is sneaked in around the middle of the “colouring book”.
    Page 10. ” Serotonin is often thought of as the “happy” neurotransmitter. It functions in mood regulation and is thought to contribute to the feeling of well-being. Some illegal drugs also increase levels of serotonin in the brain, leading to feeling of elation. Furthermore, there is evidence for decreased levels of serotonin in the synapse of people suffering from depression.”
    So, apart from the decreased levels of serotonin causing depression am I to understand that I could improve my feelings of well-being by using illegal drugs.

    PAGE 13. “The magnifying glass in the lower right corner represents the use of biological techniques in order to study the molecular components of the fluid surrounding the brain; to obtain information about brain health. We can look for biomarkers in this fluid, or in the blood, to help diagnose diseases in the brain.”
    It is my understanding that depression is diagnosed by a series of about 10 questions mostly in a busy GP surgery over a 10 minute period and that no blood test is available to identify depression. Have the researchers at RCSI made a new discovery?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Sarah, I agree with you wholeheartedly here. I think it’s a shame that when a person takes an illegal drug, they know they’re taking a risk, but when taking a prescription drug you trust in your doctor and the science behind these drugs. Yet, as the RCSI and the chemical imbalance myth has shown, often the so-called science is just a drug-company sales-pitch. Docs and Psychiatrists should know better though. I cannot believe that this huge medical breakthrough by RCSI Psychiatry has not had much fanfare – considering the decades spent trying to prove a chemical basis of depression.


  3. Quite a remarkable little fictional coloring book – I’m sure the RCSI psychiatric department can brain wash more than a few school age folk with their attempt at an outlandish fairytale disguised as real scientific fact! … get them young and you have psych-drug addicts for life (or at least a few years of poisoning)… genius….

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for being a voice of intellect and reason at the RCSI….this highly regarded institution should be reprimanded. They must immediately cease perpetuating political propaganda, as the “chemical imbalance theory” has been proven to be. There is zero empirical evidence to prove causation between serotonin or dopamine and behaviour. Full stop. The RCSI is lucky to have you, someone bright enough to challenge such a publication by presenting previously documented literature that shows another side, which is an essential and integral trait of ethical and impartial research. In this case, you went one step further by presenting how the publication is based on a myth and that the so called theory, which began decades ago, has no scientific validity. So why now, then? Why is the RCSI producing this publication now?

    Honest, ecologically valid mental health treatment approaches that use no drug or reduced drug treatments have proven successful (85% recovery rate in long term studies). Such examples include Finland’s government endorsed programme, “Open Dialogues”, (which has also recently branched out in Cork).

    I find it useful to ask about the timing of events in order to better understand them. I acknowledge that this is purely speculative, but I wonder if the RCSI is using their research funding to perpetuate progpoganda on behalf of other “interests” potentially invested in the pseudo neuroscience of the chemical imbalance theory? And perhaps those “interests” feel that the largely non drug/reduced drug approach of Open Dialogues, Cork is a conflict of their interest? I can’t help but wonder this, given the timing of the RCSI publication and the recent Cork Open Dialogues launch.

    Such other “interests” might be, say, dr_g c_mp_n__s….

    Would you like to buy a vowel?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Another prominent Irish Establishment is in the news this week. Professor Veronica O’Kane at Trinity College is focusing on pregnant women and their obvious need for psychiatric services.
    I realize this is not related to your blog piece but this week Trinity College Dublin has joined the RSCI in an attempt to reach another group of the Irish population.


      1. Do not take antidepressant during pregnancy a caring doctor should never suggest taking during pregnancy.My daughter in law was giving antidepressant but they went straight in the dustbin we are not that gullible.
        Be yourself Freud said
        Love yourself Christ said .The kind of person you become is determined how you choose to handle life situations
        No magic pill unlocks brain power.When we face up to life with all its insecurities we develop insight on how to deal with them This is a gift we all have the call it spirit .Exercise to think for yourself develops the brain benefit the nervous system ,but they also enhance the health fitness,and longevity of our entire body and pay great dividends in terms of performances and accomplishments in life.Seek the best of education for yourself do not believe lies.Meditation self-programming throughout your life have goal short ones and long.In the long term, the reality of changing oneself and learning to cope with whatever is difficult is the basic goal in life best wishes


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