Monday, September 28, 2020

Safer “Safe Solution for Depression”

December 23, 2014 by  
Filed under General

Is there such a thing as "Neurotransmitter Test," or "Anti-Depression Psychotherapy?" Where can I find out more reliable information on depression?

























We hereby wish to comment on an article, “Safe solution for depression” published in the Sun newspaper under the “Alternative Healing Special Issue” (page 20) on 18 December 2014, so that the public can have better understanding of depression. It is great that the article is attempting to do its part in mental health education. However, we find that some of the information needs clarification.

1) It was mentioned in the article that “neurotransmitter test identifies whether a patient has low serotonin and if they do, appropriate psycho-nutritional supplements can be recommended…”

Yes, it is true that one of the factors contributing to depression is low serotonin level. However, “neurotransmitter test” is NOT the usual way how mental health professionals (e.g. clinical psychologist, psychiatrist, registered counsellors) assess and diagnose depression. The scientific validity of “neurotransmitter test” for diagnosing depression has not been established. Therefore, one will NOT be offered such test in routine clinical practice for diagnosing depression. Then, how is depression diagnosed?

These are the steps that mental health professionals would usually do:

  1. Get to know your background (e.g. work, family, childhood).
  2. Enquire about signs and symptoms of depression and other psychological disorders.
  3. May clarify and confirm the signs and symptoms with your friends or family (only with your consent).
  4. Help you to identify the factors that contribute to your depression.
  5. A psychiatrist or medical doctor may do physical examinations and blood investigations if necessary (e.g.  for thyroid disease that may contribute to depression).
  6. Educate you and your friend or family on depression.
  7. Ask about your previous treatments for depression and propose a treatment plan, e.g. talk therapies with or without antidepressant medications.
  8. May monitor your progress with certain validate psychological questionnaires, e.g.  Beck Depression Inventory.

2). It was reported that “Anti-Depression Psychotherapy” is a treatment that helps the patient mitigate their conditions by challenging their thinking, emotions and behaviour.”

Yes, there are several effective psychotherapies or talk therapies for depression (e.g. cognitive behavioural therapy, interpersonal psychotherapy, marital therapy, problem solving therapy, art therapy). But, we are not aware of any psychotherapy by the name “Anti-Depression Psychotherapy,’ as reported in the article. The choice of psychotherapy will depend on many factors (e.g. causes of depression, patient’s preference, therapist’s expertise, affordability of treatment fee).

3). It was cited that “this is the advantage of dealing with depression using psychotherapy instead of medication.”

Some readers may misinterpret this to mean “Anti-Depression Psychotherapy” and “Psycho-nutritional supplements” are good replacements for medication. Therefore, this statement can confuse the public because antidepressant medication is an integral part of treatment for some patients (e.g. those with severe depression, depression with psychosis), which goes hand-in-hand with scientifically proven psycho-social and nutritional treatments. Stopping medications for depression abruptly and without professional advice is a serious matter and could lead to worsening of illness or even suicide. Hence, it is advisable that such decision should only be made after discussing with a psychiatrist.     

Which is the best treatment? Antidepressant medication, psychotherapy or psycho-nutritional supplements? There is no best or one-size-fits-all treatment for depression. Effective treatment depends on many factors (e.g. type of depression, severity of depression, factors contributing to depression, patient’s preference, and therapist’s experience). Hence, it is helpful to consult a mental health professional to discuss on an individualized and comprehensive treatment plan.


Readers who are interested in learning more information about depression from a local context may refer to the e-book, “I’m Still Human: Understanding Depression with Kindness” by Dr. Phang Cheng Kar, a consultant psychiatrist from Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM). ( Some of the useful information available from the book include answers to the following questions:

  • ·         What should I do if I or someone has depression?
  • ·         Who should I consult for professional help?
  • ·         How can I get help from mental health professionals?
  • ·         12 ways to encourage a person to seek help?
  • ·         What to expect from a counsellor or clinical psychologist?
  • ·         What are the causes and treatment options for depression?

Thank you.

Yours sincerely,


Phang Cheng Kar, M.D. (UPM), M.Med.Psych. (UKM)

Senior Medical Lecturer & Consultant Psychiatrist (UPM)

President, KL Buddhist Mental Health Association


Alvin Ng Lai Oon, DPsych (Murdoch)

Associate Professor in Clinical Psychology

Sunway University


Pheh Kai Shuen, M.Clin.Psych. (UKM)

Lecturer and Clinical Psychologist

Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman


Chiang Khai Chong, M. Clin Psych (UKM)

Clinical Psychologist

Turning Point Integrated Wellness Sdn. Bhd.


Keng Shian Ling, PhD in Clinical Psychologist (Duke)

Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology

National University of Singapore




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