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Depression: why drugs and electricity are not the answer

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 February 2022

John Read*
School of Psychology, University of East London, London E15 4LZ, UK
Joanna Moncrieff
Division of Psychiatry, University College, London, UK
Author for correspondence: John Read, E-mail:


The dominant view within mental health services and research suggests that feeling depressed is a kind of medical illness, partially caused by various biological deficits which are somehow corrected by physical interventions. This article critically appraises evidence for the effectiveness and value of antidepressant drugs and electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), the two principle physical treatments recommended for depression. It also describes the negative effects of these interventions and raises concerns about how they impact the brain. We propose an alternative understanding that recognises depression as an emotional and meaningful response to unwanted life events and circumstances. This perspective demands that we address the social conditions that make depression likely and suggests that a combination of politics and common sense needs to guide us in providing help for one another when we are suffering in this way. This alternative view is increasingly endorsed around the world, including by the United Nations, the World Health Organization and service users who have suffered negative consequences of physical treatments that modify brain functions in ways that are not well-understood.

Invited Review
Copyright © The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press

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