Abstract: So I Talked to my Doctor: How DTC Commercials Present Experiences and Treatment of Depression
In the United States, approximately 6.7% of the population has some form of depression. Half of adults with depression have reported experiencing some difficulty with work, home, or social activities. Women are twice as likely to have major depressive disorder as men, though both sexes experience bipolar depression relatively equally. Previous research indicates that direct-to-consumer advertising for depression medications is heavily marketed to women. In fact, while approximately 13% of the American population took antidepressants, women are twice as likely as men to take antidepressant medication. Influenced by these lines of research, this study sought to understand how current depression medication commercials present the illness and medication experience via the levels of the Social Ecological Model. The social ecological model is understood to have four levels: individual, relationship, community, and society. The social ecological model describes the social and cultural components of the human environment influence human development. The final sample for this study totaled 35 direct-to-consumer television commercials accessed via the website iSpot.tv. The sample represented five depression medications from American pharmaceutical companies, that either treated major depressive disorder, bipolar depression, or supplemented a patient’s current antidepressant medication. Qualitative analysis of the television direct-to-consumer advertisements was guided by three research questions: (1) How are the different levels of the Social Ecological Model presented in the commercials in terms of patients experiencing depression? (2) How are the different levels of the Social Ecological Model presented in the commercials and website videos in terms of treating depression? (3) Are there any differences between men and women regarding the depression experience? Findings indicate that all of the commercials heavily depicted the illness experience pre-medication and post-medication at the individual and relational level. Prior to the patients using/being introduced to the medication, they often experienced the depressive symptoms alone at the individual level. On the relational level, the depressive experience pre-medication had negative effects on the patients’ relationships with friends, family, and co-workers. When looking at the experience of treating depression with medication, and going to the doctor, some patients in the commercials went to the doctor alone while others visited the doctor with support from another individual. Additionally, once medication was introduced as a treatment, the patient experienced more positive relationships with family, friends, and co-workers. While the patient was better/happier with medication, the results were not over dramatic. The community level was seen in the commercials via patients’ interactions in the workplace. Societal levels of the Social Ecological model were not present in the commercials. While the ads for major depressive disorder did feature both men and women diagnosed with depression relatively equally, a large majority of the ads depicted women as the main or only patient for bipolar depression and when patients needed to take an additional antidepressant. These results provide a deeper understanding of how depression is depicted in direct-to-consumer advertisements and have implications for how both men and women may understand their risk of and treatment for the condition.