I came across this ad in a 1966 issue of JAMA. This isn’t at all my area of research, but I thought the ad was quite evocative of the changes that have occurred in psychiatry and mental health care over the past thirty years.
Because we now think of Ritalin as a drug used to curb hyperactivity or to focus the abnormally dispersed attention of ADHD kids, it is striking to see that at this time it was being marketed as a kind of mild anti-depressant for housewives. Given that the drug is a stimulant, this makes sense, and as several accounts of the history of ADHD have pointed out, it was originally the effectiveness of stimulants like Benzedrine in calming hyperactive children (during the 1960s the diagnostic term often used was “hyperkinetic syndrome”) that clinicians found surprising and counterintuitive.
The ad also uses a vague pre-DSM-III diagnostic language: “chronic fatigue that depresses and mild depression that fatigues,”!
I also find striking that—unlike what you find in contemporary ads for anti-depressants—the woman in this ad doesn’t look particularly happy in the “after” shot. She’s just steadily peeling away, fulfilling her housewifely duties, looking almost as miserable as she does in the first image. It almost lends itself too easily to the critique made of Ritalin in connection to ADHD since the 90s: that it is used as a means of fostering self-disciplining subjects capable of fulfilling expected social roles.
Andy Lakoff and Ilina Singh have both written accounts of the development of ADHD as a diagnostic entity, and Singh’s article in Science in Context gives us a nice interpretation of how this early marketing of Ritalin to women may have paved the way for its use with children:
“Ciba played an important role in the promotion of Ritalin within the medical industry through paid clinical research, advertising in physicians’ journals, and direct sales strategies…. It is more difficult to establish Ciba’s role in promoting acceptance of Ritalin within the domestic realm. It can be argued, speculatively, that Ritalin benefited from a shift in public understanding of mental illness, promoted in part by the creation and marketing of drugs for a nation of “worried well.” In particular, the success of anti-depressant drugs may have contributed to mothers’ acceptance of Ritalin for relatively common behavior problems in boys. The pharmaceutical industry and the medical profession probably targeted women for anti-depressant diagnoses and treatments… and women accustomed to drugs for their own relatively common problems may have been more likely to accept Ritalin for their sons’ problems,” (Singh 2002: 592-3)
For more on the history of ADHD see: