This blog has mostly not dealt with questions related to medications for treating mood disorders. When we looked around to see what was out there on the Internet, it seemed to us that there was no dearth of information about medications. The problem was finding reliable information about non-medication approaches to living with moods.
This morning I met with an acquaintance who has been calling on us for 20 years, marketing various medications for the treatment of psychiatric conditions.
Both of us were in a bit of a reflective mood and so we started to talk about the evolution of the relationship between pharmaceutical companie, doctors and the public over time. We both recognized that things were seriously out of whack when the drug companies were taking doctors on cruises in order to have more time to convince them to prescribe expensive medications.
However, I had to admit that there have been some very real benefits to the discovery and marketing of new medications for mood disorders – including the efforts by drug companies to sell those medications to the public, and, to the health profession.
I wasn’t thinking about the specific benefits or disadvantages of one medication over another. Clearly much of the marketing was unbalanced and newer medications were not the panaceas that they were claimed to be.
However, my experience opening a psychiatric practice before Prozac, and my experiences visiting Japan several times during the years that pharmaceutical companies were finally trying to market serotonin medications to the Japanese, convinced me that the marketing efforts themselves had some very real and tangible benefits in terms of reducing stigma.
In fact, I would argue that the drug companies have done more to reduce the stigma of mood disorders than all of the mental health professionals working on this problem have accomplished in decades of work.
Marketing works. It changes how we feel about ourselves and our lives. The fact that it works is demonstrated every day by how much savvy companies are willing to spend on marketing campaigns.
I remember a time when any talk of depression or anxiety or, heaven forbid, bipolar, could only take place in the deepest of secrecy. Now young people are often comfortable talking openly about these problems. That openness, as we have talked about in previous blogs, has huge potential benefits.
I’m not sure that all of this justifies how much money the drug companies made. But it is clear that their efforts had some, perhaps unintended, beneficial effects.