Stigma: a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person – “the stigma of mental disorder”.
Comedian Al Porter was on Irish TV this week, speaking of his depression, the one brought about by his chemicals that needed re-balancing. He spoke of the stigma attached to depression, then whipped out his pills on live TV and ended with the recommendation that if people needed meds, go get them, they work. The two other guests (a journalist and a doctor) were visibly moved, with one on the verge of tears, both saying how marvellous Al was for speaking so openly about his depression. Yet no-one on the programme, not even the doctor, contradicted him on his unfounded chemical imbalance belief. No balancing scientific argument was made to say that psychotropic drugs, which target the brain, can increase the risk of suicidal behaviour and aggression. Oh and let’s not forget the high percentage that will experience antidepressant-induced sexual dysfunction (sometimes irreversibly).
I’m glad the drugs worked for AL, really I am, he seems like a lovely down-to-earth fella. Good luck to him – I only wish they worked so well for everyone. He’s on meds though, so what, who isn’t? You don’t see fertile females whipping out their oral contraceptives, shouting “I’m on the jack and jill, aren’t I feckin marvellous?” Or, half the population whipping out their benzos, screaming (albeit calmly) “long live me auld psychotropics”. Only the locale-name is already familiar, Ireland could surely be re-named ‘Statin Island’, which consumers could also whip out – if they could remember where they put them.
Stigma, stigma, stigma. It’s a word being wildly bandied around in the media, demonstrating how thoroughly modern and enlightened we all are. Al spoke of feeling a stigma attached to taking medication. Whether this stigma actually still persists, is debatable, particuarly as there are approximately 500,000 Irish people currently taking antidepressants or anti-anxiety drugs. According to the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO), 25% of Irish adults are suffering from a mental health disorder (IMO, 2016). Across the European Union, the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ECNP) have estimated the number to be far higher, at 38.2%. Everywhere we look, there are articles and documentaries informing us that having a ‘mental health’ issue, particularly depression, is actually quite normal. Indeed, the Pharmaceutical industry has spent years attempting to normalize mental illness. Yet, why would industry spend so much time and effort into supposedly reducing mental health stigma. Depression, being an extremely lucrative market, is hardly co-incidental?
One Pharma initative, Lundbeck’s ‘Art Against Stigma
aims to create a ‘better understanding of mental illness’ and challenge the general public ‘to re-evaluate their perception of those with mental illness’. They very kindly provide a list of the drugs they manufacture for every mental illness you can imagine, down at the bottom of the leaflet. Ahead of another Lundbeck initiative, Irish psychiatrist Patricia Casey, a paid speaker for many years with this Pharmaceutical company, said –
people with depression can often suffer for years before seeking treatment because they do not recognise the condition or because they do not want to be stigmatised.
GlaxoSmithKline also got in on the stigma train. Having done a fabulous job on this side of the water normalizing ‘mental illness’ (and touting GSK drugs), it took its de-stigmatising project (and drugs) to Japan, with their advertising slogan “Does Your Soul Have A Cold
?” No doubt a dose of Paroxetine (Seroxat/Paxil) will cure your mucus-filled soul – perhaps permanently.
Not to be outdone, Lilly also got in on the act with ‘The Welcome Back Awards
‘ program, established to ‘recognize outstanding achievements in the fight against depression and the stigma often associated with the illness’. Of course Lilly’s Fluoxetine (Prozac) was a major part of its success. It’s interesting to note, that stigma did not cause the death of 14-year-old Irish boy, Jake McGill Lynch
– Prozac did.
Depression is big business for the drug industry. If there is any remaining stigma, directed at a person in distress or otherwise, that is ignorance – not stigma. A pill will not cure ignorance. The Pharmaceutical industry sells drugs – an industry that exists because of ‘illness’, not health. An industry push to destigmatize ‘mental illness’ is similar to Diageo
attempting to destigmatize alcoholism.