Researcher Suggests Psychiatric Drug Ads Perpetuate Stigma

Heavy criticism has fallen on pharmaceutical companies and some psychiatric professionals in recent years as rates of prescribing potentially unnecessary medications rise. Sometimes, proposes a study recently published in the Journal of Mental Health, psychiatric medications can have an additional negative impact on professionals and their clients; because of their content and presentation, the study notes, they may actually perpetuate stigma associated with psychological concerns and treatment.

The study was produced by an examination and comparison of advertisements in two major medical journals, one of which was geared specifically towards the psychiatric community. The advertisements were analyzed as to the way in which they represented clients, and the words that were used to describe and pitch the product. After performing these analyses for a year, the researcher found that clients represented in non-psychiatric medication advertisements were depicted as being happy and active, whereas those in the ads displayed in the psychiatric journal tended to be inactive and troubled. The researcher also found that while the control advertisements focused on words describing the product, the advertisements in the study group included less words overall and may not have been as objective.

Such discrepancies, the study suggests, may be responsible for influencing professional perspectives on clients themselves, and may also strengthen pathologizing behaviors among some practitioners. The researcher notes that asking potential clients and society at large to abandon stigma surrounding mental health may be impractical if the issue is still prevalent among professionals themselves. Though many may prefer to see advertisements for psychiatric medications pulled from many publications to discourage over-prescription, others may lend their support to the study’s findings to concentrate on ensuring that such advertisements do not negatively influence community perspective.

© Copyright 2010 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • roger


    April 8th, 2010 at 11:48 AM

    if the companies that sell products to cure a problem themselves spread prejudice regarding the problem,it surely does not help…it will in fact put the patients in a fix because the adverts of the products that they use themselves depict them as being inactive and troubled!

  • John Lee

    John Lee

    April 8th, 2010 at 11:56 AM

    I don’t beleive symptoms should be advertised as symptoms are often normal human reactions to stress. It’s when those reactions interfere with daily functioning that they become a problem. By the power of the media people could take the power of suggestion and exaggerate a normal stress response thinking a medicine will take the feeling away. It’s ok to have a certain amount of anxiety or sadness. Anxiety is actually the nuts and bolts of life

  • Carson


    April 9th, 2010 at 6:34 AM

    OK so here’s the issue that I have with this. I have a big problem with these drugs, or any drugs really that require a prescription, being advertised either on tv or in print. Why? Because people see that, become convinced that this is what they need to make them feel better and then head to the doctor and try to force them to write the prescription for them. It’s like these ads encourage self diagnosis but you and I both know that 9 times out of 10 we convince ourselves that something is wrong when it really is not. So maybe the drug companies are just tyring to get the word out about their meds, or more realistically, maybe they are just trying to make a buck. I don’t know. But it seems reasonable to me that they provide the ads and drug info to the doctors and let them do the work instead of encouraging the rest of us that something is wrong but that they have the magic pill which will make it all better. Just a thought.

  • John Lee Lmhc

    John Lee Lmhc

    April 9th, 2010 at 8:57 AM

    Ever since the 60’s and the rock song about mothers little helper we are a take a pill or fix me culture! I feel if the drug companies would stop advertising the cost of medications would be greatly reduced! I also agree that too many do self diagnose and the ads reinforce their beliefs that they need the med. And! It’s not just with psych meds. What did men do before the .., commercials.

    Feelings are natural reactions to stressors. Feelings are warning signs! Just because a person feels depressed does not mean an automatic medication! I’ve heard psychiatrists ask what kind of meds would you like? Hello! Conveyor belt psychiatry is another article!



    April 9th, 2010 at 10:12 AM

    Drug companies should only do what they are supposed to-manufacture the drugs so that someone in need goes out,gets prescribed and buys them.There is no real need to ‘advertize’ drugs! Are they telling us we should go out and buy thir product because we are impressed by their adverts?!

  • lynda


    April 9th, 2010 at 2:26 PM

    most companies,in their commercials,depict the user in a ‘before’ and ‘after’ manner…they how a stereotypic persn before and then show a happy person later on, after using their product…this is extremely cliched and needs to change.

  • Tempest


    April 9th, 2010 at 9:22 PM

    Ads have always had a degree of exaggeration built into them. It’s the nature of the marketing beast to exaggerate the problem and also why x, y or z is THE solution. The product itself is almost irrelevant to the process. Whether we chuckle at how bad some ads are (the ones that sell those plastic storage containers on a carousel spring to mind), remember this: the format works. And that’s all the drug companies care about.

  • Peyton


    April 10th, 2010 at 7:48 AM

    Well maybe we should more collectively stand up and say that this is not the kind of marketing that we care to see anymore.

  • Martha T.

    Martha T.

    April 10th, 2010 at 12:13 PM

    I hadn’t thought about that before but it’s true when you see that pointed out to you. They are reinforcing the stigma. Is fear the latest sales technique then? Shame on them.

  • LaScala


    April 11th, 2010 at 4:28 PM

    It also creates false hope when the drugs aren’t presented as truthfully as they could be. Not everyone will do well on medication nor suddenly turn into this sunny person overnight. Who reads the small print? What people remember more are the visuals.

  • Jasmine


    April 11th, 2010 at 6:07 PM

    Drug companies owe it to us to be as honest as possible with their ads. The magazines accepting these ads should be more fussy too. This is medicine, not a perfume or face cream. These ads are targeting the doctors we trust with the quality of our lives. Transparency should be a given. However that’s a pipe dream. Neither will do that sadly because they are thinking in terms of profits, not people. Same old story.

  • Zane


    April 11th, 2010 at 8:37 PM

    Can you blame them? If they said this might help you a tiny bit and showed an after picture of someone with a halfhearted smile, as opposed to an ear to ear grin and big thumbs up with a claim of how fabulous it is, there wouldn’t be so many sales. Pharmas have shareholders to answer to just the same as Google or Apple does. I’m not saying it’s right. I’m saying I understand their motives.

  • Gabriel


    April 12th, 2010 at 8:04 PM

    Maybe if more turned to talk therapy for help instead of being desperate to find that elusive quick-fix magic pill, there wouldn’t be any market for such ads. Nor would there be so high a disappointment level that the drugs didn’t measure up as they had expected them to.

  • Dionne S.

    Dionne S.

    April 16th, 2010 at 6:32 AM

    And TV ads are just as bad as print ones. I don’t know how you complain about print ads but for broadcast ads, the FTC and/or FCC will get involved if you wish to complain about an ad being misleading.

  • John Lee LMHC

    John Lee LMHC

    April 16th, 2010 at 11:32 AM

    Gabriel has some very great points! somehow we have gravitated to be an instant gratification..I want to be fixed now give me a pill culture..

    The mind is a very powerful organ most people only tap into 15 to 20 percent of it’s strength. People go to great lengths to train their physical bodies however don’t seem to understand the importance of training their mental abilities!

    The military’s elite can stay focused in the most brutal of conditions because of training the mind. With the right therapy/training people can train their minds to cope without the needs of so many medications. I’ve helped people with Schizophrenia tume out of their voices and into the moment through training and practice. There are alternatives to medications. It shouldn’t be the first option.

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