How antidepressant ads manipulate
By Catherine Fisher
With our country in an economic crisis along with the sporadic increase of natural disasters, it isn’t surprising that depression rates among the American population have risen. Luckily for us, antidepressants are only a doctors note away. But are we really that lucky?
Antidepressant ads give the impression that happiness is all wrapped up in a little pill, but in actuality the only thing these ads guarantee are disillusionment. Many have seen the commercial that features a saddened individual walking down a dark hallway where they eventually walk into an area illuminated by light and their features become overjoyed. After watching this, it seems as though these pills work instantly but that’s not always going to be the case. In fact, when on antidepressants, one may feel worse before they feel better.
Take a look at Prozac’s website, for example, where we get all the information that’s not included in the 15-second commercial. In big bold letters reads, “Antidepressant medicines may increase suicidal thoughts or actions in some children, teenagers, and young adults within the first few months of treatment.” Yes the commercial gives the website address for those seeking more information but who checks the website?
The theory behind brand name drugs such as Zoloft, Prozac and Lexapro is based on a chemical imbalance in the brain that creates depression. It is suggested that low levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that relays signals to the brain, is the cause of this imbalance. Antidepressants often address this issue through cartoon diagrams that show the problem then the solution once on the drug.
This belief can be contradicted as it has been proven that serotonin is not the sole contributor to depression. “Serotonin imbalance as causing depression is at best a gross simplification of a partially understood dynamic process that involves many neurotransmitters and brain structures,” said Hugh Stephenson, a psychology professor at Ithaca College.
He went on to explain that the newer generation of antidepressants, such as Prozac, had to come up with something that would be better than the older generation, hence the focus on fixing this serotonin imbalance. Yes, serotonin has something to do with depression, but is that the sole contributor? No, but the common viewers of America aren’t going to know that.
With such flaws, how is it that these ads aren’t taken off the market for misleading audiences? This all boils down to clever advertising. “It’s all about eye candy,” said Cyndy Scheibe, professor of psychology at Ithaca College, “They distract you from hearing the side effects by using visual images.”
While we hear these side effects that range from insomnia to digestive problems, we see people having a great time with friends. To the masses, it isn’t these words that count; instead we notice pictures.
These medications are a product, and the intent is to sell their product using some unique selling proposition to make it stand out among the other pills sweeping the market. “They want you to remember their product when you make a decision, if not to convince you to use it but question whether you should,” Scheibe said. The people behind the commercials of Zoloft and company want to at least leave you questioning your own mental stability.
Let’s just take a look at the opening of the notable Zoloft commercial. “You know when you feel the weight of sadness. When you feel exhausted, hopeless and anxious.” It sounds like these feelings can just be related to a bad day, but target this to the regularly stressed American citizen and they find themselves scheduling an appointment with their most trusted medical personnel for claims of depression. Such broad generalization leave the typical viewer thinking that there is this magic drug that can help solve their sadness, but that is hardly the case.
Psychologists call this situation the “FUD factor” which stands for fear, uncertainty and doubt. Here we have a plain ol’ person who is mentally fine sitting on the couch, watching TV when all of the sudden a few syndromes can be applied to his life. All of the sudden the FUD factor kicks in and this plain ol’ person begins to feel nervous.
“It is irritating to doctors to have ‘ask your doctor’ at the end of the ad,” Scheibe said. While these drugs claim to be the universally accepted medication it turns out that these antidepressants are in fact almost never right for a person. So next time you see an ad for Lexapro or any antidepression medicine just be warned: Bullshit may ensue.
Catherine Fisher is a freshman cinema and production major who thinks it would be cheaper to hire a clown instead. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.