Why The Far Right Is Going After Antidepressants

by | Jul 27, 2022 | Politics

A recent study calling into question the long-held theory that depression results from a chemical imbalance in the brain is gaining traction on the far right, with some using it to argue that pharmaceutical companies are plying millions of people with useless antidepressants.The buzz around the University of London study reached a fever pitch this week when right-wing Fox News host Tucker Carlson made it the centerpiece of his show.Advertisement“So first we were told that SSRIs would save lives,” Carlson said Monday, referring to the class of drugs known as selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors, the most common form of antidepressant. “Now we learn they don’t actually work as intended. In fact, the whole idea behind the drug was completely wrong. And yet — and here is the best part — people are ignoring this news, and the drugs are still being prescribed.”Carlson latched on to a common side effect of SSRIs to bolster his argument that people should abruptly stop taking a potentially lifesaving, mood-altering drug: “If it steals your sex drive, maybe it’s stealing your soul,” Carlson said. (It should go without saying, but if Carlson or anyone else suggests you stop taking a prescribed medication, you should not do so without consulting a doctor.)Not long after the Uvalde, Texas, school massacre, far-right U.S. Senate candidate Blake Masters in Arizona speculated, without any evidence, that antidepressants were a factor in that and other mass shootings.Masters said on a podcast in June that a typical shooter, “most of them are on SSRIs, you know, sort of hormone-controlling antidepressant drugs.”AdvertisementLast week, Matt Walsh, a transphobic, far-right commentator, hailed the new paper’s findings on serotonin in a tweet that was amplified thousands of times. “This anti-depressant study is huge. Big Pharma has made billions prescribing wonder drugs to treat depression but there was never any solid scientific evidence that the drugs would work. Now we know that the whole thing was built on a myth. Big Pharma’s greatest scam of all time,” he wrote.In statement on her research that appeared in The Hill, where an article on the study is trending, the paper’s lead author said: “It is always difficult to prove a negative, but I think we can safely say that after a vast amount of research conducted over several decades, there is no convincing evidence that depression is caused by serotonin abnormalities, particularly by lower levels or reduced activity of serotonin.”Doctors and scientists admit they don’t fully understand how antidepressants work to treat disorders such as anxiety and depression but point to outcomes showing the drugs are nonetheless effective. It’s been thought that SSRIs alleviate the symptoms of depression by helping to flood the brain with serotonin, a naturally occurring chemical in the body that regulates mood and sleep, among other important functions.The University of London study, published last week in Nature’s Molecular Psychiatry, found no link between serotonin levels and depression, leading some to the conclusion that antidepressants are doing nothing. But critics of that interpretation argue it doesn’t fully capture the complexities of how antidepres …

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