What Are the Effects of Pharmaceutical Advertising on the General Public?

Ph.D. student and recent fellowship recipient Joanne Souza hopes to find out whether Americans have a deep understanding of the treatment options available for depressive symptoms.

Joann SouzaJoanne Souza ’09, an M.S. in Psychology graduate and a Ph.D. in Psychology student at Walden University, received the 2010 Fellowship in Research and Applications for Social Change, a $10,000 grant through the Presidential Fellowship Program, to pursue her study The Impact of Direct-to-Consumer Advertising on Health Seeking Behavior for Depressive Symptoms.

“I have always been interested in the impact, both positive and negative, of stress on people being able to set goals and work toward those goals,” Souza explains. “As I learned about health and the human mind, I became concerned that mental health issues were becoming more and more medicalized through direct-to-consumer advertising. At the same time, the positive effects of cognitive behavioral therapy were minimized since there is no advertising campaign.”

Souza, a faculty member at Stony Brook University in New York, hypothesizes that direct-to-consumer advertising is modifying the concept of depression into one broad, general category, encompassing many people who may not have authentic depressive symptoms. As a result, consumers inaccurately believe they can successfully self-diagnose depression and self-prescribe what they will need for their treatment.

“The purpose of the study is to determine if, when primed for ‘depression,’ people match diverse depressive-like symptoms with seeking help from a medical doctor and antidepressants alone as the cure,” she explains. “Proper treatment for depressive symptoms is crucial for health and well-being.” There is no evidence, she continues, that shows that pharmaceutical treatment alone is better than when combined with mental health therapy or, in some cases, than therapy alone.

When Souza concludes her study, which will sample a broad, random section of the general population in the United States, she would like to begin a counter-educational campaign starting at the college level that gives the public a deeper knowledge of health-seeking options and treatments. “The community of psychologists has an opportunity to provide a counterweight to pharmaceutical advertising. This effort would contribute substantially to mental health in the U.S. with its unusual tolerance of direct-to-consumer advertising,” she says.

“Walden faculty and staff have been extremely supportive in assisting me, guiding me and encouraging me to complete this important study,” she says. “From a purely psychological standpoint, it is motivating to know that others think your area of research is important.”

About the Fellowship

The Fellowship in Research and Applications for Social Change was established to enable members of the Walden community to make a significant and meaningful change in academic and social communities, both locally and globally.

Read more about the Fellowship in Research and Applications for Social Change and past recipients.