Debunking the Myth of the Chemical Imbalance with Dr. Joanna Moncrieff

Dr. Caroline Leaf
6 min readMay 19, 2022

In a recent podcast (episode #383), I talked to psychiatrist, researcher, professor and best-selling author Dr. Joanna Moncrieff about critical psychiatry, the difference between a drug-centered and disease-centered approach in the field of mental health, the history of psychiatry, withdrawal from psychotropic drugs, the dangers of medicalizing misery, the myth of chemical imbalance, the potential downsides of using psychedelics to treat mental health, and so much more!

Joanna calls her herself a critical psychiatrist. This means that she doesn’t sign on to the mainstream view of psychiatry, which claims that all mental disorders are the same as brain diseases that need to be treated with drugs, ECT and other interventions that focus on physiological or biochemical symptoms.

Human beings come in all shapes and sizes — we are all different. This means we have a huge range of assets, but also a huge range of problems and difficulties. It is not helpful to just call these issues a disease or think of them in solely medical terms, unless we are convinced, by a good body of evidence, that there are specific abnormal brain issues present. Everything we do is reflected in our brains. We need to distinguish brain activity that goes along with everything we do from a neurological disease like a brain tumor. But we are also more than just our biology; everyone’s mental health issue is unique to them on a social, spiritual, biological, psychological and spiritual level.

Of course, saying a mental health issue is not a neurological disease doesn’t mean that there is nothing happening in the brain. It also doesn’t mean that we do not influence what happens in the brain by both what we do and how we live and, sometimes, by taking certain drugs.

Joanna discusses this difference in depth in her book The Myth of the Chemical Cure: A Critique of Psychiatric Drug Treatment. As Joanna points out, the current disease-centered approach claims that symptoms of depression are caused by a brain chemical abnormality, and psychotropics like anti-depressants help rectify this abnormality and improve mental health symptoms. This hypothesis currently dominates the field of mental health, yet we have no evidence that it is the best way to understand mental issues. First, there is no strong evidence that depression, for example, is associated with any particular biochemical abnormality. Moreover, we do not know if the drugs we…

Dr. Caroline Leaf

Mental health expert. I have spent the last 30+ years researching ways to help people manage mental health issues in school, work, and life: