Posted in Mental Health

Pseudoscience and Depression

Those of us who have gone through any sort of mental health issues, whether minor or major, is bound to have come up against a well-meaning friend or two who will warn us off of the “happy pills”.  As with any other anti-science movement, they will recount numerous anecdotal horror stories and list some of the (admittedly concerning) side effects that some people feel when on them. Inevitably, these people wish to demonise anti-depressants and offer alternative suggestions.

What are these alternatives that are supposed to change our thoughts and cure our depression?

Sunshine and Exercise

This is an age old one when Doctors from before the Enlightenment recommended sea air for melancholy. It works on the same principle and is just as unscientific. I can say from personal experience that though sunshine and exercise have both been proven to have clear positive effects on our mood, lifting the spirits and making us more relaxed, whereas it may help feeling a little fed up it is not a cure for depression. Any respite from such critical negative thought processes is temporary at best. I started running during my worst bout of depression two years ago (this month actually) and it gave me a momentary high. By the time I got back, showered and dressed and ready to face the evening again, the endorphins had subsided I was back to square one.

Clean Eating

There’s nothing that clean eating can’t cure if you listen to a certain demographic. Part of my new health choice two years ago also included eating less and eating healthier – refusing those desserts that were aggressively pushed at me by my then mother-in-law and eating less (though in some ways my low mood aided that thanks to a loss of appetite). Neither did this cure my depression. Evidence on whether poor diet adversely affects our mood is mixed at best and many pseudo-scientific claims are made. Poor diet can make us ill and that in turn can affect our mood but that is a world away from saying a healthier food lifestyle can cure depression.

Positive Thinking

Now we are strolling into the realm of “downright offensive” as well as “increasingly dangerous”. Call it what you will, Positive Thinking, The Law of Attraction, Positive Mental Attitude – it is all the same thing and it is one of the worst things you can say to somebody who is depressed. What people who do not understand is that when you do this, you are telling them that they are somehow deficient and they must fight their negative thoughts with positive ones. The mind of a depressive is often a crowded place so trying to crowbar in positive thoughts is going to make it louder and more confused. What they don’t need is to be told they are not thinking positively enough. They are already feeling weak and pathetic and their inability to dispel all their problems with “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow” will have an adverse affect and make that depressed person feel worse.

Get Plenty of Sleep

Well done Doctor Moron, we can cure our depression by sleeping more…. which is great when you can get to sleep. I remember my sleep pattern from July – September in 2012. Let me briefly recount a typical night.

23:30 – Go to bed and maybe fall asleep around 00:30
02:00 – Wake up feeling anxious
02:10 – go to toilet
02:15 – doze off
02:30 – wake up again
03:00 – Finally start to feel sleepy again after fidgeting for 30 minutes
05:30 – Wake up, unsure if I had slept much for the couple of hours
06:00 – Get up and go for a run

In September when I hit my worst patch, I was lucky if I fell asleep before 2am and lucky if I slept as late as 6am. It’s a struggle trying to sleep, let alone making sure you get your full 7-8 hours of it when you still have to get up to go to work in the morning.

The only cure for depression, true depression, is a combination of anti-depressants and therapy – you won’t cure a broken leg by forcing a smile so a broken mind can’t be fixed that way either. Anti-depressants stabilise the mood merely so that you can cope with all the stresses and strains that burden you. Going from a state of elation to despair from one day to the next is not fun and that’s the core function of anti-depressant medication.



I go by the name of Frank Speaking. My blog "In the Mind of Men" (former name Chin Up, Chest High) started out as a chronicle of my mental health recovery. Now it is a forum where I discuss issues related to male mental health.

8 thoughts on “Pseudoscience and Depression

  1. One person once told me this analogy: we can’t cure cancer with pills, the same way I don’t need anti-depressant medication to treat my depression. He was the psychiatrist who diagnosed me with depression.

    1. Thanks for your comments. That attitude absolutely beggars belief. They should not be an answer in themselves, but part of any necessary medical treatment. You need that mental neurological stability that they provide before you can address that which is the root cause.

      1. I was tempted to tell him exactly that! That maybe it would at least help me stabilize my emotions, or somehow put me on a neutral ground or something first. But I didn’t because I thought that maybe he knew what he was doing.

        1. I was on Seroxat and Lexapro at different times, and I felt that that’s how they made me feel: just ‘neutral’. Not better, not worse, just…neutral. It wasn’t really a discernible improvement for me. I was hoping for ‘feeling better’, really, and not just ‘not feeling worse’. Didn’t really happen. And boy, was Seroxat a b**ch to come off. Hello, electric-shock feelings every time you move your eyes!! Having said that, I would take them again if I felt the need. I’m starting to feel that way 😦

          1. I’ve never heard of that, I’ve only ever been on Citalopram (first time) and Sertraline. I had more side effects – shakes, dry mouth and some *ahem* male-specific bodily functions going haywire with the Sertraline, but I felt generally better mentally on those.

          2. First of all, I’m sorry to hear that you’re starting to feel that way again. If you ever feel the need to talk, I will be here. 🙂
            Secondly, hello.:)
            And lastly, I think feeling neutral for me means that I could at least be rational when I think, especially when I make decisions. I’m not saying I think irrationally or that having a mental illness means having an irrational mind, but I guess what I’m trying to say is that, I would at least like to be put on the shore instead of being in the middle of the ocean drowning.
            That is what I want to get from medication; a sense of being safe from my own self, by being emotionally stable.
            But having not tried any form of treatment, I could only speculate on what these things do to people.

  2. Latest research suggests antidepressants have little or no effect.

    My experience of them was coming out in angry red welts and then on another one suffering with anxiety and getting vivid nightmares. Then when I came off them I couldn’t sleep.

    What sorted me out wasn’t some chemicals, it wasn’t putting a patch on a wound, it was seeing what was causing the wound in the first place. I went to the doctor and got referred for therapy. I stabilised my mood in the meantime with exercise. In fact studies going back to 1981 show that exercise does help for mild to moderate depression:

    and my dad who is a retired doctor used to prescribe exercise first and talking therapy second.

    In my experience the drugs were only negative. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy has meant that I have never had trouble with anxiety/depression again as I am now able to take control and question it. My therapist warned me off antidepressants that doctors seemed to be pushing because then you don’t know if the treatment is working, how can you gauge how you feel when you don’t feel anything? Pain and suffering is part of life, it is something we must work with and not something to be afraid of. I was able to see my mood gradually lift. My experience of antidepressants was wholly negative and I found that exercise and remembering that there would be light at the end of the tunnel kept me going through it.

    1. I’m sorry but that’s NOT what that study says – it’s saying that Doctors should be more careful to whom they give them out due to potential side effects. The weight of evidence is in favour if them, they help millions of people every year. If you look at the full paper here even those authors admit as much.

      how can you gauge how you feel when you don’t feel anything?

      They may have been the case for older types of anti-depressants but SSRIs especially act as a mood stabiliser – which has always been my experience when I have been on them.

      As for your other study – the first sentence proves my point. “Might help” is not suggesting it is the miracle cure that some seem to suggest.

      Can a few laps around the block actually solve your emotional problems? Probably not, but a regular exercise program might help.

      In the second sentence the operative word is “improve” not “cure” as you seem to be suggesting. The whole Harvard article is vague too – the study is inadequate when the answers are so vague and there’s so much they don’t know by their own admittance. Yet anti-depressants do have clear and measurable benefits.

      it was seeing what was causing the wound in the first place.

      Hence my insistence that they work in conjunction with therapy.

      My experience of antidepressants was wholly negative and I found that exercise and remembering that there would be light at the end of the tunnel kept me going through it.

      When you’re standing on the edge of a cliff contemplating whether to end it all, positive thinking won’t stop you jumping – but the realisation that you need help. You will not be thinking straight in that moment. For MANY people, anti-depressants are a vital part of recovery.

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