What’s Wrong with the Chemical Imbalance Theory?

A thoughtful personal reflection in the New York Times about living with bipolar may be of interest to Moodsurfing readers.  The author describes passing through a range of beliefs about mental illness and wellness, from a feeling of stigma about not being able to “snap out of it” to a sense of comfort engendered by a more “biological” paradigm.  Later, however, she begins to question the dominant medical paradigms as well and moves into a greater sense of personal agency, where taking her medications remains an important strategy, but she also has learned to manage lifestyle, diet and exercise as approaches to her own wellness.

Chemical imbalance as an explanation of mental illness, especially depression and bipolar has been popular for several decades now, and yet, the idea of simply replacing missing chemicals in the brain turns out to be too simplistic.  Psychiatrists rely on empirical observations and experience to know how to help their clients find the right mix of medication, lifestyle change and personal agency to achieve their own wellness goals.  We are all reminded to avoid simplistic and reductionist explanations of what is happening while encouraged to find ways to take control of our own quest for health.

Living with bipolar means learning to navigate what the medical system can and cannot provide, learning to choose wellness rather than merely drift, and learning more about the brain and its workings than, maybe, we really wanted to know.  But learning from others is always a good way to go.  That’s why we are always on the lookout for personal memoires and witness that can and should be shared with everyone.  If you have any resources that you have found helpful, don’t hesitate to share them in the comments below, or on our Facebook page.