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Learning to love meds: Americans’ attitudes to psych meds may have improved since late 90s

A post from guest contributor, Liz Oloft

“The Los Angeles Times (7/31, Roan) recently reported that, according to a survey in the August issue of the journal Psychiatric Services conducted by a researcher from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, “Americans have much more favorable attitudes about psychiatric medications compared with almost a decade ago.” Specifically, “compared with a survey in 1998, respondents in a survey conducted in 2006 said psychiatric medications help people to feel better about themselves (68 percent compared with 60 percent); help people to deal with day-to-day stresses (83 percent compared with 78 percent), and make things easier in relations with family and friends (76 percent compared with 68 percent).”

Study author Ramin Mojtabai, MD, PhD, “expressed concern, however, that people’s attitudes were increasingly positive, even in situations where there might not be a proven benefits to the” medications, HealthDay reported. He theorized that “advertising may have helped increased people’s positive perceptions of these” medicines. “But, he added, there is also an increasing awareness that many psychiatric disorders have a biological or organic cause that medications may be able to help correct.”

According to WebMD (7/31, Hendrick), “Over the years…negative attitudes about psychiatric” medications “have been among the greatest challenges in treating mental health problems,” Dr. Mojtabai pointed out. Nevertheless, he added that the current survey “calls for a more targeted and selective approach in public information campaigns aimed at improving public understanding of the proper uses of psychiatric medications,”” (APA Headlines).


I thinks it’s interesting (and consistent with a quietly rumbling internal critique of psych meds among medical researchers) that the authors of the study are concerned about how the public might have overly-positive attitudes about these medications. I imagine some of their concern is grounded in the findings that SSRI efficacy is questionable for mild to moderate depressive symptoms, and that at best about 3 out 10 people trying an SSRI will benefit from it. They might also be speaking from concern about the increasing use of psych meds with kids. My own research has shown that (at least) two cultural attitudes exist simultaneously with regard to psych meds: on the one hand we have increasing normalization of medication use and diminishment of stigma–to the point where high school kids have casual chats at their lockers about what meds they are taking–and on the other, good old morally condemnatory Calvinist views on psych meds. The latter perspective views conditions like depression as indicative of weakness in character and medications as quick fixes. These two discourses appear in many of the interviews I have conducted with young adult psychiatric med users, and many of their narratives reveal attempts to reconcile the contradictions the two discourses pose.

I am also also struck by how the researcher hypothesizes that advertising has improved attitudes. All I can say to this is that I am deeply troubled by the market’s virtual hegemonic power in shaping our culture. You might call me sentimental, nostalgic for a past that never was, and naive about the history of medicine and the market. To this I will say that not only am I a psych med user but I have Marxist leanings, too.

Liz Oloft, Ph.D., is trained as an anthropologist. Her previous post for Somatosphere was “Prozac in the Closet.”


2 Responses to Learning to love meds: Americans’ attitudes to psych meds may have improved since late 90s

  1. I think advetising certainly influences medicing takinf, at least 1 third of the advertising you see on tv is for psiqhiatric disorder or viabra. Here is what I think about this:
    Depression is a serious mental illness that requires months and sometimes years of treatment on the path to a cure. Millions of Americans across the United States are affected by depression each and every year. Depression is more commonplace than you might think and it will not go away on its own.

    Depression is reaching epidemic proportions and imposes tremendous costs on society. It is a condition that occurs at the interface of the individual and environment. Stress is the primary driver of depression but a host of other causative factors can be involved. One of them that is virtually ignored is the role culture can play in the frequency of depression. The psychologist, Oliver James, has argued that our society is making too many people mentally ill. If the trends in depression incidence are to be believed he may well have a point.

    The culture we are living in has no inherent meaning, and no dialogue with nature, If we are fortunate, we may have an ocean retreat from the man-made. If we are less affluent we may make special trips to connect to nature, be it at the zoo, or the botanical gardens. But for most of us nature is absent from our daily life.
    http://singyourownlullaby.blogspot.com/2009/06/depression-and-culture.html

  2. Pingback: The political economy and everyday life of pharmaceuticals | EDS Info (Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome)

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