James le fanu highlights an increasing problem

Advertising is behind the high take-up of antidepressants

Subtle advertising has led doctors to prescribe more antidepressants.

Mothers are twice as likely to suffer from depression than they did 40 years ago - Advertising is behind the high take-up of antidepressants

Mothers are twice as likely to suffer from depression than they did 40 years ago Photo: ALAMY

7:30AM BST 12 Sep 2011

The pressures on many mothers juggling the demands of work and family are no doubt stressful enough. Still, it is hard to credit the report last week from the authoritative-sounding European College of Neuropsychopharmacology that, as a result, they are twice as likely to suffer from depression than 40 years ago.

It is certainly true that, astonishingly, family doctors now write three times more prescriptions for antidepressants than back in the Seventies, but that mainly reflects the success of drug companies in redefining psychological and other conditions in such a way as to encourage doctors to treat those conditions with pills.

Their methods were well reported by a New York advertising executive, Vince Parry, in a 2003 article, “The Art of Branding a Condition”, in which he described how he collaborated with several companies to foster “the creation of medical disorders”, by deploying three main strategies.

First, elevate the importance of symptoms, then redefine an existing condition, before developing “a new condition for an unmet market need”.

The several instances of this brand conditioning include “medicalising” normal physical events, redefining psychological traits as quasi-psychiatric illnesses (so shyness becomes social phobia) and, most important, redefining the limits of what is considered normal of some physiological variable such as blood pressure or cholesterol.

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