The other day I was watching TV, and CBS aired a "public service announcement" (PSA) about bipolar disorder. Mark Harmon starred, and it was tastefully done. He said it takes an average of 10 years to diagnosis bipolar disorder, which is "10 years of needless suffering." I was happy to see it, and eagerly jumped online to look up the featured link CBS Cares. I found well-written, in-depth articles and interviews with top medical experts about many health topics, including bipolar disorder. I read completely through the depression and bipolar parts of the site, and came away with new information and insights. But that cynicism was gnawing, so I dug. 2 clicks later I was on the AstraZeneca web site, the maker of the bipolar disorder drug Seroquel. I’m not insinuating that AstraZeneca had anything to do with the site or it’s content. But no matter where you are with respect to bipolar disorder, you’re rarely more than "2 clicks" removed from pharmaceutical money.
Before we go any further, I’m not one of those that sees the pharmaceutical industry as evil. It makes my quality of life, and that of my loved ones, much better. But I am concerned about the proliferation of "disease mongering", or the marketing of medications with the intent of increasing diagnoses, and therefore, med sales.
Per an article published in the BMJ, Selling sickness: the pharmaceutical industry and disease mongering, they describe disease mongering as "widening the boundaries of treatable illness in order to expand markets for those who sell and deliver treatments." They go on to say that "Pharmaceutical companies are actively involved in sponsoring the definition of diseases and promoting them to both prescribers and consumers. The social construction of illness is being replaced by the corporate construction of disease."
A friend, Gen, wrote me the other day. She said:
…have you noticed the ridiculous number of ads for "bipolar medications" in various magazines? in virtually every single issue of US, there's an ad for Seroquel. interesting, huh? it's a full spread and usually about four pages long. AND, in downtown Chicago, there are covered bus stops where there are ads on the side. one i saw the other day: "feeling glum? have a lot of energy? you may have bipolar disorder."The one that hits home with me is the "Depression Hurts" TV spot by the anti-depressant Cymbalta. When that ad came out, there was no hint it was medication marketing, it looked like a caring PSA. It directed you to their website, where you had to do some digging to find the true reason for the spot. Since then, they have started identifying that the ad is for Cymbalta. That ad has raised awareness of depression, there’s no disputing that. But it’s painful for me, as a prescription of Cymbalta a few years ago precipitated the mania that ended up with my diagnosis of bipolar disorder.