Are You Depressed? Big Pharma Hopes So

Are you depressed? Have you lost interest in things you used to enjoy? Are you eating or sleeping too much? Big Pharma hopes so! The push to convince people who are dealing with job, family, relationship and money problems that they actually have “depression” has resulted in almost one in four American women in their 40s and 50s taking antidepressants. Ka-ching.

Psychiatry is often accused of not being “real medicine” because the diseases it diagnoses cannot be proved on blood tests and brain scans. That’s why this month’s announcement of the “first blood test to diagnose major depression in adults” is good news for psychiatrists and Big Pharma. Developed by Northwestern Medicine® scientists, the test, announced this month, “provides the first objective, scientific diagnosis for depression,” says Northwestern.

“The blood test can also predict which therapies would be most successful for patients, and lays the groundwork for one day identifying people who are especially vulnerable to depression — even before they’ve gone through a depressive episode,” gushes a Huffington Post article. No kidding! Treating people “at risk” of heart disease, asthma, osteoporosis, GERD and other conditions is Pharma’s marketing plan. Patients never know if they would have gotten the disorders and will stay on the drugs for decades.

Another Pharma plan to sell antidepressants is pimping suicide. Groups like the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention present our national suicide rate as an “antidepressant deficiency” and cite a “stigma” that keeps people away from depression medication — like the 25 percent of older women who are on them right now.

Yet, despite a huge chunk of the population being on antidepressants, suicide is up not down. And in the military, where antidepressant use is rife, suicide is way up, including among those who never deployed. Left out of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s marketing materials is mention of the “black box” warnings on antidepressants that say “Antidepressants increased the risk compared to placebo of suicidal thinking and behavior (suicidality) in children, adolescents, and young adults…Patients of all ages who are started on antidepressant therapy should be monitored appropriately and observed closely for clinical worsening, suicidality, or unusual changes in behavior.”

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Antidepressants have other risks besides suicide. They can cause weight gain, sexual dysfunction, passivity and general complacency about life. When antidepressants quit working or don’t work to begin with the “depression” is called “treatment resistant” and more drugs are added making more money for Pharma. Their side effects — and symptoms if a patient tries to discontinue — are often taken as “proof” of the initial depression. The result is people who were never depressed being on the drugs for years.

Depression certainly exists and antidepressants certainly can work. But through cagey marketing, Pharma has changed the definition of depression from self-limiting, as it was once viewed, to a lifelong condition. Worse, “depression” has been turned into a cultural/commercial condition of lack of happiness instead of a clinical condition. Why shouldn’t we be happy at all times? Big Pharma has so medicalized normal, everyday emotions, grief over the death of a loved one is now called a psychiatric disorder and there’s a pill for it.

The truth is antidepressants can increase or diminish the risk of suicide, though both suicide and meds are way up. Another truth is the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention received $40,000 so far this year from Eli Lilly and $50,000 in 2013 and 2012. It was led for a time by psychiatrist Charles Nemeroff who was found by Congress to have failed to disclose at least $1.2 million in Pharma income to Emory University.

So, yes, the pills do treat depression — depression of Big Pharma profits.

Martha Rosenberg is a columnist/cartoonist who writes about public health. Her first book, titled Born with a Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp the Public Health, has just been released by Prometheus Books. She can be reached at: martharosenberg@sbcglobal.net.

Read other articles by Martha.