Anyone who watches television, whether on Hulu or on cable, has seen it before: the foggy, black and white commercials with a pained-looking actor. “Depression hurts.” Then they start talking to you. “Do you not want to go anywhere?” “Do you not want to see anyone?” “Do you hurt?” “Yes?” They can help.
But then two-thirds of the commercial is devoted to horrifying risks and side effects juxtaposed with happy, fun-loving people presumably on their pharmaceutical drugs.
Direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising isn’t exactly new, but it’s a sticky situation. Many Western nations have actually banned it for being unethical, but in the United States, it is a billion-dollar business. In fact, pharmaceutical companies have been found to spend more on advertising to consumers than they do on actually researching the drugs. Perhaps that is the cause of the also common litigation commercials for injuries due to medication.
I have a friend who felt really stressed out at the beginning of the semester. She had work, classes and a social life and was attempting to keep up with healthy things like working out. One day she just got tired. She remained tired for a week and slept for a large part of each day. She called the MU Student Health Center for a counseling appointment for stress management because she couldn’t afford any more wasted days. The nurse suggested she try a psychiatrist. She met with the psychiatrist for about 40 minutes before she was prescribed citalopram, an antidepressant. She was desperate for relief of the stress and accepted the prescription.
However, the medicine gave her weird reactions — sometimes even hives. She couldn’t get back in touch with the doctor for a long time, and she tried to self-diagnose the problem by not taking vitamins or anything that could interfere with medication. But the strange reactions continued. About two weeks in, she decided to stop taking them and make different life changes like running and eating better. So far, she’s fine.
By no means do I want the takeaway from this anecdote to be that mental illness doesn’t exist, that treatment should be stigmatized or that medication is always bad. But I think the system needs to be re-evaluated. How is it that, with no medical history of mental illness, someone could be diagnosed and prescribed a drug for depression within 40 minutes? Is it really okay for the doctor to make a follow-up appointment for a month later and be difficult to contact with questions?
This also got me thinking — if you know the key traits medical professionals are looking for because of advertising, how easy is it to read about it, see a commercial and report the exact conditions for what you think you have so that you can be medicated for it?
The New York Times recently published an article about a self-diagnosis that ended fatally. The college student, who allegedly went to doctor knowing how to get the ADHD medication prescription he wanted, had a psychotic meltdown and eventually committed suicide.
It leaves me wondering how ethical direct-to-consumer advertising is, and if it’s leading to the over-medication of people. If the problems the medications treat can’t be tested for, it doesn’t seem right to give people the language that meets the criteria for diagnoses. Have you ever used WebMD when you had a cold, made a checklist of the symptoms they gave you and diagnosed yourself with what is surely a brain tumor? I have. But I don’t have a brain tumor.
Women’s Health published an article about apathy and how it's often confused with depression. The idea is that operating under high levels of stress for long periods of time just exhausts you. It leaves you listless and wondering whether you are depressed. Rather than medication, the article suggests living more consciously, being aware of your stress and actively looking for ways to combat listlessness and get help without medication. And when medication can cause side effects like burning skin, weight gain and suicidal thoughts, wouldn’t we want to focus more on therapy and lifestyle first?
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