“You can’t set her free”: Pharmaceutical Advertisements and the Always Shifting Perceptions of Madness

Looking at the ways in which the psychiatric profession advertised for its drugs and treatments can tell us a lot about shifting perceptions of mental health. We’ll keep the explanations short here, but if you want a more thorough critique of psychiatry, read our article Schizo-Genesis // Mad Apocalypse: the Story of the Psycho here.

Women, Hysteria, and Housework

This first group of ads shows the progression of certain “women’s issues,” which range from the classic “hysteria” to anxiety and depression disorders, to psychotic disorders. These disorders and illnesses tend to be portrayed as the causes of the woman’s failure to perform their household duties with a good attitude or else when they show “devious” sexual proclivities. A study by Donna Stewart, M.D., chair of women’s health at University Health Network and the University of Toronto in Canada called “Who Is Portrayed in Psychotropic Drug Advertisements?”  found that, in ads from three different psychiatric magazines in the years 1981, 1991, and 2001, women were portrayed in family roles 90% of the time, and in sleeping, leisure or passive roles 77% of the time.

electrobelt
1890 ad for an “Electropathic Belt” for Hysteria and “Weak Nerves.” “I can perform all my duties without pain” reads this “female testimony.”

 

vintage-anti-2
Ad for anti-depressant Dexamyl Spansules. Unknown year.

 

femfree
1967 ad for Serax. Nothing you can do about patriarchal power, but you can stuff your wife full of drugs! This ad seems to acknowledge that the duties entrusted to the normal housewife are oppressive and extreme, but then tells us that “Serax cannot change her environment, of course.”

 

deviant
A 1973 ad for Anquil, a neuroleptic advertised as a cure for deviant sexuality: “exhibitionism, compulsive masturbation, incest, erotomania” and “anti-social sexual behavior.”
fempressure
Meprospan advertisement, 1967. Another example of advertising psychiatric drugs explicitly as a coping mechanism for the pressures of household work.
2002-anti
These representations have remained largely the same. This is a 2002 ad for Paxil, which shows how this housewife became reintegrated into her normative family by taking anti-depressants
2009-anti
And this scary one for Pristiq from 2009 seems to suggest that a woman is like a wind-up toy that, when beginning to fail, can use anti-depressants to help get through the day. Depression is assuredly the most widespread pathologization today of people’s, and especially women’s, adverse reactions to an unfulfilling normative lifestyle. This ad, by portraying the housewife as a wind-up, also seems to suggest the pessimistic idea that household duties are mechanical and wooden.

Children and their “Bad Conduct”

The second group shows some ads directed at parents of unruly children, or even just “weird” children. These problems were in the past generally viewed as anxiety related or else as “mental defections” while today they tend to be seen as “conduct disorders” like ADHD and Oppositional Defiant Disorders, which are much more commonly diagnosed than any previous disorders in children. Prescriptions of antipsychotics are on a drastic rise. The Scientific American reports that “Between 2002 and 2009 pediatric prescriptions for atypical antipsychotics increased by 65 percent, from 2.9 million to about 4.8 million. A staggering 90 percent of those prescriptions are off-label, according to a 2012 study published in JAMA Psychiatry, with ADHD and disruptive behavior disorders accounting for about 38 percent of all antipsychotic use in children and teens.”
kidefect
Ad for Compazine, not sure of the year, which promises “Prompt improvement in ward and cottage behavior, table training and toilet training”
different child
1959 ad for Equanil “for the child who is different.” Direct marketing for managing difference with medication, so that the child may “enjoy a normal life.”

 

atomoxeteen
2007 pamphlet explaining ADHD medication Atomoxetine in bizarrely over-simplistic and sugary language to kids, normalizing the medication of children. “It works in the brain to help you concentrate and listen better” does not actually tell you how the medication works or what it does.

 

ad_monster
Ad for Intuniv, an ADHD drug.

Psychiatry and Anti-Blackness

The third group shows the anti-blackness inherent in the psychiatric profession, which makes illegitimate any alternative methods of care or diagnosis and presents any form of resistance to white supremacy as pathological. In the early 20th century, mostly white women who failed to perform their household duties were diagnosed with schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders, but, in the wake of the Black Power movement in the 1960s and 70s, the second edition DSM highlighted the “aggression” of the illness in its new description of symptoms. Jonathan Metzl: “In the 60s, National Institute of Mental Health studies found that ‘blacks have a 65% higher rate of schizophrenia than whites.'”
Haldol-ad.png
A 1974 ad for Haldol, an anti-psychotic advertised here as a curative for “aggressive and belligerent” behavior with an image of a black man.
thoraztool
Anti-psychotic Thorazine presented as “modern” tool opposed to “primitive” African tools while also highlighting its special use in controlling “psychotic agitation.” This anti-blackness and attack on traditional medicine is essential and not accidental to the project of psychiatry, which must discount and ridicule both other ways of seeing illness and methods of dealing with them to deepen its own hegemony and establish white doctors as the ultimate experts on health and illness.
list the mask
A 1977 ad for Stelazine. “Remove the mask of schizophrenic withdrawal,” which is presented as an African tribal mask.

Noncompliance is a Symptom of your Illness!

The last group shows the way in which the psychiatric profession trains the public to recognize the ill with representations of delusional psychos who would go to any length to convince others they were normal and resist treatment. The final conclusion of this is that 1. psychiatrists can identify when abnormal behavior is a symptom of pathology and not a legitimate form of protest or resistance to life circumstances, and 2. they know how to treat it.

deny
1981 ad for Proxilin informing the reader that the schizophrenic psycho may be hard to identify, and also that he may deny his own illness. But, don’t worry, because, with Proxilin, he need only be injected once a month, and hence, “will not have to be reminded every day of the illness they reject so strongly.”

 

black hood ad

9poison
Ad for Stelazine that recommends disguising medication to trick patients into taking medication they perceive as poison.

 

black hood ad.jpg

9recalcitrant
This ad for Haldol does much the same, noting that it is “tasteless” and difficult to detect.

 

9web
This 1982 ad for Proxilin promise to help “break the web of noncompliance” with an injection of the drug. What all these ads assume is that the oftentimes awful and painful side effects are preferable to the symptoms associated with schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders. They make this choice for the patient, who actively rejects this treatment and seeks to avoid it.
iceberg
A 2006 ad informing the reader of  the hidden danger of “partial compliance” including the “delusional belief” that “medication is poison.” What about when it is poison, or experienced as such?

 

calling mom
This ad for Seroquel implies the impossible correlation between the level of the dosing and how often they call their mother, i.e. “come out of their illness.”

 

*Some of these were found in my own independent research, but many were retrieved from The Bonker’s Institute here.

5 thoughts on ““You can’t set her free”: Pharmaceutical Advertisements and the Always Shifting Perceptions of Madness

  1. Reblogged this on The life, writings, photography, and spiritual journey of Dithreabhach and commented:
    “You can’t set her free”: Pharmaceutical Advertisements and the Always Shifting Perceptions of Madness
    Looking at the ways in which the psychiatric profession advertised for its drugs and treatments can tell us a lot about shifting perceptions of mental health. We’ll keep the explanations short here, but if you want a more thorough critique of psychiatry, read our article Schizo-Genesis // Mad Apocalypse: the Story of the Psycho here.

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