Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Does venerable Cleveland Clinic promote the old urban legend?

Yesterday Bob Fiddaman noted on Twitter another recent article, unabashedly promoting the infamous falsehood about depression being caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. Bob has provided a critically important and very valuable service by “outing” idiots and charlatans who continue to push the all-too popular theory, which was disclaimed a decade ago by none other than the editor of Psychiatric Times as nothing more than an urban legend.

The article currently at issue was authored by Sherry Christianson, “a medical writer with a healthcare background” who “has worked in a hospital setting and collaborated on Alzheimer’s research,” appeared on the website verywellhealth.com, on 12/21/2020.

One has to wonder how any qualified professional medical writer could make this error or forward this bullshit. One must also question why the fact-checkers, medical review board and senior management team at "an award-winning online resource for reliable, understandable, and up-to-date health information" would allow any writer to assert admitted bullshit on its website.

The plot thickens, when we notice that verywellhealth.com is “a proud partner of The Cleveland Clinic, the #2 rated hospital in the U.S.”

I emailed the website this morning, as follows:

TO: feedback@verywell.com

Sent: 01/05/2020, at 8:53 AM

RE: What Is Clinical Depression?

Dear Sir/Madam,

Sherry Christianson’s article of 12/21/2020 on your website, contains this statement:

“Clinical depression is a set of signs and symptoms that may add up to a chemical imbalance in the brain. This chemical imbalance is thought to be the underlying cause of clinical depression."

Ms. Christianson should know better, and verywellhealth.com should never have allowed this statement to appear on its website. 

The first of the two sentences is technically true only with its prospective, MAY add up to.... Of course, the cited “signs and symptoms” MAY also add up to various other things instead, e.g., a meningioma, cancer, recent bereavement causing loneliness, or unemployment leading to probable poverty. Or those “signs and symptoms” MAY add up to nothing with any more specific name than “life”. 

The second of the two sentences is inaccurate without an additional clause to modify or ascribe “thought to be” such as, “...by uninformed laypeople whose opinions are affected from deceptive marketing.”

The “chemical imbalance in the brain” meme has no connection whatsoever to scientific or clinical medicine. This should not be news to you. 

No less an authority than Ronald Pies, MD, author of the world’s leading textbook on psychopharmacology, exposed the “chemical imbalance” meme some years ago as an urban legend, not any credible theory in psychiatry. (See, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/holistic-therapy/202009/questioning-the-chemical-imbalance-theory?amp, and Dr. Pies’ original statement in 2011, https://www.psychiatrictimes.com/view/psychiatrys-new-brain-mind-and-legend-chemical-imbalance.)

Hence, verywellhealth.com has opened itself up to charges of deceptively misinforming the public, and even health care fraud. In the least, the referenced Christianson article is utterly inconsistent with any purpose such as you claim, for helping “more than 30 million people each month to feel better and be healthier.”

In fact, promoting a long discredited urban legend about depression makes you, and by association even such a top-ranked institution as Cleveland Clinic, look ridiculous.

Yours truly,
S. Randolph Kretchmar
Attorney, Wilmette, IL
847-370-5410 (mobile)

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