I am writing to urge the National Institute of Mental Health and other supporters of mental health research to join the global efforts to eradicate the senseless and cruel forced-swim test performed on rats and mice. The test, widely regarded as inaccurate and inhumane, should be ended and replaced by relevant and superior human studies of depression.
In the forced swim test, terrified rats and mice are placed into inescapable tanks of water while researchers observe which animals struggle longest to stay afloat. Research involving this test is seriously flawed, however, because the idea that depressed animals stop swimming sooner has no clear link to human depression. There are multiple factors that can influence how long an animal might swim, and many prominent scientists have spoken out against the test’s scientific validity.
The imprudence of using the forced-swim test to study mental health is even more pronounced when considering the existence of superior, human-based technologies such as non-invasive brain imaging methods, some which have been in wide use for at least the past twenty years. Additionally, there is valuable information to be obtained from examining brain tissue from deceased donors, as well as utilizing organoids (mini-brains) to study human depression.
It is imperative that the NIMH and other mental health organizations recognize the invalidity of the forced-swim test and end support for this outdated and inhumane test.