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Opinion | Big drug companies, big money: Treating mental illness with prescription drugs

Nicole's Two Cents

By Nicole Theodore
On February 21, 2014

The media has been consistently fed data and statements pointing to "correlations," "links," and "relationships" between mental health and medication. Most of them alert the public that paired with proper medication, those with mental health problems can become healthier and symptoms are easier to manage.

Big name drug companies have been wooing the public eye since antipsychotic drugs became a big money maker. According to the Market Research firm IMS Health, the fifth and sixth leading prescription drugs are antipsychotics Abilify and Seroquel which in 2011 racked in $18 billion, a 13 percent increase from 2010.

Mental disorders often stereotyped in the media include schizophrenia, multiple personality disorder (correctly known as disassociate identity disorder by the psychology world) and bipolar disorder. Those suffering from these common mental disorders are characterized as crazed murderers dealing with hallucinations and voices who have steered away from their medication in rebellion. The media does a great job of portraying these scenes, especially Hollywood.

The film "The Roommate," is a great example, where Gossip Girl star Leighton Meester goes off her medication, which is treating her for an unknown mental disorder. She then kills her roommate's ex-boyfriend and basically goes on a rampage attempting to kill others because of her obsession with her roommate. I am a psychology major and that movie even terrified me and put a stereotype in my head of what a mental health patient may look like.

According to a 2012 study by University of Illinois College of Medicine researcher Martin Harrow, which detailed a 20 year study of schizophrenic patients, he found results opposite of what major drug companies pushing anti-psychotic drugs like Thorazine, Haldol, Etrafon and Trlafon would want the public to know.

"At each follow-up, 30 to 40 percent of schizophrenic patients were no longer on antipsychotics. Starting at the 4.5-year follow-ups and continuing thereafter, patients not on antipsychotics for prolonged periods were significantly less likely to be psychotic and experienced more periods of recovery; they also had more favorable risk and protective factors," Harrow stated in his results section.

Harrow's 20-year study also concluded that patients with schizophrenia, mood disorders and psychosis who did not go off their medication experienced even more psychotic episodes, increased anxiety and cognitive issues. They also experienced less phases of recovery compared to those who went off their medication.

If a number of mental health patients dealing with serious disorders are not necessarily leading more normal, healthy lives, then why do 1 in 5 Americans with mental disorders take medication? This is an increase of 22 percent from 2001.

That is an estimated $16 billion on antipsychotics, $11 billion on antidepressants and $7 billion to treat ADHD that Americans spent in 2010. Why would drug companies want the public to know that antipsychotic medication doesn't necessarily always help? Follow the money I guess. Even though Americans are spending more money annually on prescription drugs for mental illness and mental illness is now a standard story in the media, mental illness is still not even being recognized as a serious problem by some college institutions. It is considered more of burden for schools like Princeton.

A Princeton University student was told he had been evicted from his dorm room, banned from attending classes and prohibited from stepping foot on campus after he tried to kill himself by downing an overdose amount of the antidepressant Trazodone. The student was told this after the school found out about the incident and the hospital visit. Dan, 20, is now suing Princeton for prejudice against a "protected disability," which is mental depression.

Even though socially the United States has accepted the misconstrued images of those with mental health issues by the media and drug companies have successfully made bank selling to Americans that those with mental health issues need prescriptions, why are people like Dan being told they can't continue school because of their mental disability?

If prescription drug use by Americans is increasing to 1 in 5, then those who can't handle the symptoms and issues they face shouldn't be punished. It's not their fault drug companies are instilling advertisements of happy, smiling faces and they aren't feeling like those in the television ads that drug companies spend almost $2.4 billion on a year.


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