Disorder of the Day

Illnesses such as depression, ADHD, and anxiety and behavioral disorders are being diagnosed in increasing numbers throughout First-World countries. While there is little doubt that people are being more up-front about mental illness, is this trend a true reflection of what is really happening in the lives of everyday people?

A concerning aspect in this upswing in the use of medication to “solve” these conditions, is the accompanying upswing in the profits of the pharmaceutical industry. While most people have always traditionally wanted a “magic bullet” to solve their health problems, in the area of mental health, the pharmaceutical industry has turned advertising into an art form.

The dramatic rise in the use of antidepressants in the 1990s does not necessarily indicate a similar rise in the incidence of depression. What it does indicate is the increasingly aggressive marketing campaigns staged by manufacturers of the most popular drugs on the market. Walk into any family medical practitioner’s office and it has long been commonplace to find the desk littered with pens, mugs, paperweights, calendars, thermometers, etc, all brandishing the name of a pharmaceutical company.

Walk into any psychiatrist’s office and the offerings are even more extraordinary. Apart from the obligatory pens, tissues, and mugs, one drug company was responsible for leaving a veritable litter of black furry stuffed puppies in every surgery during one promotional campaign. This was in order to emphasize their product which promised to cure the “Black Dog,” otherwise known as depression. These cuddly puppies looked so inoffensive gracing the desk and carpet of the reception and waiting room, giving the impression to patients (many of whom were children) that these potent drugs were not only harmless but necessary.

At a conference recently held at the University of Newcastle in Australia, speakers asked the question: “Are we selling sickness?” The question is an interesting one. Aided and abetted by multinational drug companies with seemingly bottomless financial resources, it is increasingly difficult for the time-strapped family doctor to give the necessary attention to a person suffering from an emotional disorder of any kind. But it is becoming increasingly easy for the doctor to simply prescribe a tablet to take away emotional pain.

To be fair, patients themselves are often part of this sad equation in demanding drugs for any illness, from the common cold to a bout of “depression” precipitated by something as commonplace as a death or divorce. In a previous series of blogs on When Taking Antidepressants Aren’t the Best Option, we spoke about situations where drugs such as antidepressants are not required, yet are automatically prescribed by harried or uncaring doctors.

In coming blogs, we will continue the topic of the increasing medicalization of emotional conditions.

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