Peddling Misery ⸺ Letter to the Independent on Sunday

I refer to your piece (IoS 20/04/08) about Depression Awareness Week. We all know Alastair Campbell sold his soul to the military-industrial complex by playing a key role in preparing public opinion for the Iraqi oil grab and acting as spin-doctor-in-chief for one of this country’s most mendacious administrations, now apparently he has sold out to big pharma too. Depression Awareness Week will do nothing to tackle the root causes of the misery and lack of self worth millions of us suffer day in day out. It will, however, serve to instil in the public mind the illusion that emotional distress bears no relation to real life events or societal values, but is supposedly endogenous, somehow divorced from a wider reality. I also note the familiar tactics of the growing emotional disorder industry. First they categorise a set of behavioural symptoms as a disease in its own right and then promote it through media campaigns by hiring the services of celebrities who share some of these traits.

Emotions are part of the human experience and it comes as some relief that even Mr Campbell failed to cope with the strains of his professional distorsions of reality. However, rather than take pills to wish away these moral dilemmas and suppress our true selves, we should look at the real causes of people’s woes in a highly competitive and image-obsessed society and not just the bio- component of the classic bio-psycho-social triad.

Your article mentioned Depression Alliance, co-sponsored by Eli Lilly and Boehringer Ingelheim. In 2005 they organised a “Pulling Together” campaign to increase awareness among physicians, patients and the media of a link between physical symptoms and depression. This soon earned a subtitle as “Consumer Media Campaign National Depression Week for Eli Lilly’s and Boehringer Ingelheim’s Cymbalta”. Let us not forget the many victims of the numerous side effects of common antidepressants this campaign seeks to promote, such as insomnia, dry mouths (accelerating tooth decay), weight gain, sudden mood swings and suicidal thoughts.