In the U.S., we have a tendency of taking blame away from a person suffering from a condition by attributing it to biological causes. Although personal choices can play a role in health, such as eating junk food and becoming obese, we have medications available to fix just about any situation. Depression, a mental condition, is the state of feeling alone, hopeless, sad, as well as many other emotions, to the degree that normal life becomes nearly impossible to enjoy or even just get through. There are a wide range of symptoms and outcomes, and it may even lead to suicide. I think that it is important and useful that we label it as a real disease because blaming the individual (who may be feeling hopeless) could be very dangerous and only worsen their situation. By clearly marking it as a mental illness and offering a wide variety of medications and treatments, the person is able to focus on getting better which is a very important source of hope. We label many diseases this way because we view all individuals as equal, not just under the law but biologically. Even those born with debilitating conditions are given the same opportunities, and so the condition is never their fault but just a sort of challenge that can be conquered with help from the health community, often in the form of medications or intensive treatment from a professional.

To treat depression, usually tricyclic antidepressants are prescribed. This type of medicine helps to improve the production of two chemical messengers, known as neurotransmitters, in the brain, norepinephrine and serotonin. Simply put, it helps the patient to feel happy and optimistic. There are a few other options if that type of medicine is not useful. I have included a link to a website of an antidepressant, Viibryd. It is made of vilazodone and comes in four different dosage sizes. Like just about every other antidepressant ad, it contains a photo of a woman who looks upset, with her eyes cast down, all by herself. This helps the depressed individual to relate to the character so that they feel understood. Other marketing strategies include optimistic statements and kind, soft messages rather than direct or cold ones. It’s important to connect to the audience on a level that is not threatening or offensive or invasive and to swoop them up and make them feel cared for and having a better future. This communication style is similar between doctors and patients, too, ensuring that the person feels important. The relationship is almost matching that between a mother and small child (of our culture), full of support and unconditional love in the form of tender care.

Advertisement for Viibryd:

Information Source:

Web M.D., Depression Health Center. Retrieved from:

2 thoughts on “Depression

  1. I agree with your analysis that acknowledging clinical depression as a disease of biological origin is useful, since it legitimizes an individual’s suffering, and enables the development of targeted therapeutic remedies that have potential to improve subjective feelings of distress. In this way, the medicalization of depression is positive in that it promotes and publicizes biomedical interventions, which in turn render the condition less socially stigmatized. This sentiment is reiterated in the documentary Pill Poppers with one commentator’s discussion of the “Build it and they will come” mentality; that is, introduction of Prozac as a medically sanctioned treatment for depression reduced taboos surrounding this mental illness such that those afflicted are more comfortable seeking treatment (Cohen, 2009).

    However, I disagree with your statement that attributing a disorder to biology removes blame from the patient; in fact, I think it elicits the opposite effect, alienating the patient and holding them responsible for an enduring, immutable, inherited defect. Paradoxically, in countries of the developing world, where theories of mental illness causation are extrinsic and reversible, the cure rates and instances of remission are far superior to those in industrialized countries where mental illness is attributed to a permanent, internal, genetic anomaly or psychological disturbance (Leff, 1992).

    In terms of pharmacological antidepressants, I think that they have been overprescribed to individuals who do not meet the threshold criteria to qualify for clinical depression, due in part to the economic incentive of the pharmaceutical industry. Where fiscal investment exists, intentions are not pure, as illustrated by the stakeholder GSK admitting in 2006 that they were not forthcoming about data that the antidepressant Seroxat raised the suicide risk 8 times (Leff, 1992). Another factor is the emergence of managed care, which replaces psychotherapy with prescriptions reimbursable under this format. Furthermore, I think the realm of human emotion has come under the jurisdiction of medicine due to the American public’s preference for ‘magic bullet’ cures and decreasing tolerance for discomfort of any magnitude, which causes reframing of life dissatisfaction in terms of mild depression. In addition, the digital age has manifested trends of lay self-diagnosis that “fuel the social engine medicalizing certain adult troubles” (Conrad, 2000). Likewise, media portrayals and public dialogue are instrumental in fostering public perception of the prevalence of depression, which encourages label-seeking behavior in a feedback loop. Importantly, a medically-endorsed diagnosis of depression allows assumption of the sick role and access to legal disability benefits, as well as excuses behavior and underperformance. As in the case of adult ADHD, “The disorder is named as the culprit for all sorts of abuses, hypocrisies, neglects, and other societal ills” (Conrad, 2000).

    Lastly, I agree with your opinions about the Viibryd advertisement. Antidepressant ads often reconceptualize a state on a normative human spectrum of emotion (sadness) in terms of an abnormal symptom of illness (clinical depression). Not only does the ad offer a tangible biomedical treatment, but they also explicitly state that pharmacological intervention is imperative “in order to feel better” (Forest Laboratories, 2012). Also, they strategically frame their product as “the first of its kind” to position it as unique and revolutionary in order to encourage existing users to switch brands and expand their consumer base (Forest Laboratories, 2012). Viibryd also plays on culturally entrenched schemes of illness reification, whereby the doctor is the source of illness identification and validation, by prompting patients to “Talk to your doctor to learn…if VIIBRYD is right for you” (Forest Laboratories, 2012). Simultaneously, the company’s advertising strategy appeals to notions of the informatted patient by advocating the patient be empowered with tools such as “The Depression Self-Screener,” “Symptom Diary,” and by employing proactive platitudes as section titles such as “Stay Informed” in order to erect an advertiser-audience relationship (Karim, 2012). Other themes such as synthetic personalization can be discerned by the company’s direct addressing of the patient as “You” (Karim, 2012). Likewise, they play on internalized members resources of feelings of social alienation from depression through the image of a generic, downtrodden woman, which can be interpreted as the outcome of not trying their product.

    This discussion reveals how our culture values health as a commodity that can be purchased with application of the appropriate chemical agent, and also how health is a prerequisite to success and quality of life. Deviations from optimal well-being are perceived as necessitating corrective medication. Hence, expanding diagnostic categories to account for a range of life failures and misfortunes is a cultural artifact or “object of knowledge,” reflective of our cultural emphasis on conforming to the norm and leading a productive life (Conrad, 2000). Therefore, both diagnoses and administration of medications to correct disability “carry a certain currency in the public sphere” that lessen the stigma of following a different life trajectory due to one’s medical condition (Conrad, 2000).


    Cohen, A. (Editor). (2009). Pill Poppers[Documentary]. United Kingdom: BBC Horizon.

    Conrad, P. & Potter, D. (2000). From Hyperactive Children to ADHD Adults: Observations of the Expansion of Medical Categories. Social Problems, 47(4): 559-582.

    Forest Laboratories, Inc. (2012). Viibryd Overview. Forest Medical Information and Communication Department. 5 August 2012. Retrieved from

    Leff, J. (1992). The International Pilot Study of Schizophrenia. Psychological Medicine, 22: 131-145

  2. I really enjoyed your post; I think it is very important that you did not diminish the fact that depression can be an actual, at times severe, biological disorder. Just because a disease or disorder is heavily medicalized, does not mean that it still isn’t a serious medical condition. I found the website advertisement you analyzed, for Viibryd, was very informative and if I was a patient, I would have found the various paths of medical knowledge presented on the site very helpful. I think in today’s biomedicalized society, this advertisement would appeal to one’s desire to be an “expert patient” and to have access to privileged medical information. I also agree with the point that you made about the “actor” in the ad appealing to a shared suffering mentality that the possible future patient might be feeling if they are experiencing depression. Overall, I think if I was a consumer of anti-depressants, this medication’s website would appeal to me as far as data is concerned, but I am not sure if it would give me the sense that if I took this medication, it would greatly enhance my life. This, according to this week’s lectures, is what a person expects out of medication in the present biomedicalized society. It is not enough anymore to simply normalize or treat a condition, but now a medication must also enhance the person’s body or life as well. In the case of depression, in medicalized societies it would be satisfactory if the medication helped you to not feel depressed, but in biomedicalized societies, the medication is expected to make you feel happy and successful as well. As was seen in the materials this week, using biomedicine to enhance our daily lives has been an idea that has grown in popularity as new technologies are discovered. Medications that were once taken only by people who needed them to function at a normal level, are increasingly being taken by those at normal levels to make them above average, or enhanced. With the competitive culture we live in creating this desire to be more successful, healthy, and happy than the next person, this enhancement trend may continue to frightening extremes.

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