The Cloying Hell of Antidepressant Commercials - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

The Cloying Hell of Antidepressant Commercials

Depression Expression #11

Previous entry: An unsent letter to my therapist (who is irrevocably human)

Reminders of my depression have been propping up everywhere. Given the way algorithms via Google, YouTube, Facebook, and so on track our activities to microtarget ads I'm honestly a bit surprised I haven't been targeted sooner. But now, these last few days, ads on YouTube are for different antidepressants and when I log into Facebook the odds are better than not that I'll see another advertisement or open study for new depression treatments.

My depression, at least today, has mostly taken on the form of laying down and crying or staring into nothing. Even my cats, the usual respite from feeling like myself, haven't been able to break me out of my funk and when I realized this I just started crying more. So when I get online to try and find something - anything - that will spark feeling other than what is becoming the usual I am not helped by the litany of antidepressant advertisements that await me.

I can thank them for one thing, they gave me something to focus on as a target. And for those of you who may have been able to seek treatment successfully because of an advertisement then good on you. The effect on me is one of trying to use honey on an open wound. It's the wrong ingredient used to damaging effect that's more likely to attract further complications than seal up the already bleeding source.

The first thing that strikes me watching these commercials is how few men are in them. Now, I know that sounds like entitled white man writing, but bear with me a moment. There's still a gigantic stigma associated with depression and mental illness that everyone who suffers from mental health struggles against. The prevalence of women in these commercials feeds into the old "women be crazy" stereotypes that we can't seem to rid ourselves of. By keeping this stereotype up, any man who suffers from depression and watches these advertisements is essentially taking the harmful stereotype on to themselves while furthering toxic masculine viewpoints. Basically, "You're not a man if you have depression, you're a useless woman." Not helpful to anyone.

I thank men like Terry Crews and Michael Phelps opening up about the traumas and mental health experiences that have shaped them into the people they are. But for me, being targeted by these advertisements when I'm trying to comfort myself in some way, it's not their stories that are getting through. This used to be a problem for me. I didn't know many men who suffered from mental health issues and some of the lingering sexism in me associated it with women. There was one coworker I had who missed large swaths of work and I felt burdened picking up her slack. It wasn't until my first breakdown that I started to understand where she was coming from and the next time she talked about her situation I empathized instead of quietly condemned. But who knows how I'd have continued to simmer in what toxic thoughts if I didn't have that experience for myself.

Which brings me to another huge problem with these commercials. They always show high functioning depressives who seem to be suffering more from headaches or hangovers than the kind of depression that requires medication. The hangover bit I kind of understand given alcohol's role as a depressant. But the constant images of attractive people hugging themselves or rubbing their temples signals more of a straightforward physical issue than a mental or emotional one. This isn't to say physical issues can't affect the other two, lord knows the amount of blood I'm passing every day weighs on me, but the prevalence of this kind of image of mental health doesn't help me communicate what it's like.

Granted, I understand why such a pleasing image of depression gets put out there. The majority of us who suffer from depression feel ostracized in some way and presenting the absolute worst of depression makes that alienation easier to sink in. It just doesn't do much good to always have attractive people in bright environments being the primary avatars of antidepressants, especially when these commercials go over the list of side effects like a radio broadcaster giving updates on a flower show. Depression always ends up looking like a mild inconvenience for attractive people.

So what would an antidepressant commercial starring me look like? It would start with me uncontrollably shaking and crying until I took benzodiazepines. Then I'd be lying in a state of terror, though not crying and shaking at least, while keeping Key & Peele episodes running on repeat because my brain's convinced itself I will die if I stop watching. When I was at work I'd take every free moment I could to listen to cave water sounds to keep myself from crying at the normal sounds of an office. This was on the benzodiazepines.

This would require a lot of rapid-fire editing and we're only on the first medication. Then I'd be on the sertraline, getting more frustrated with the dosage increasing and barely feeling any change from week to week. The damaging correlative here is one commercial that claimed their drug should be looked into if you haven't felt a significant change in six weeks. Breakthrough anxiety would come along next so I needed hydroxyzine to combat it, which made me loopy on top of sad and this was the drug I needed during the day. When the anxiety got so bad that I wasn't sleeping then it was time for doxepin, the drug that made it easier for me to sleep but my body went from 5-6 hours to 10-12. I reached my lowest point and tossed buspirone into the cocktail where, for one month, if I wasn't sleeping I had an awful headache. But, the kicker, it was the drug that finally put me into a "normal" state. I use quotations marks there because my sense of normalcy had warped drastically over the three years it took me to level out.

Try cramming that into a minute and a half to give people a realistic idea of just the medication side of my struggle. There are no easy metaphors, cartoons that can warp from sad to superb, all while surrounded by a web of always supportive people. I remember getting up at work once after needing my hydroxyzine, nearly face planting into a cubicle because of the wooziness, and only hearing a joke about how I must have drunk too much the night before. Never mind I had stopped drinking long before this moment, my condition was a joke to them.

These commercials always seemed cheesy but now they're damaging as they cater to stereotypes while painting an unrealistic picture of what we go through. And I can't get away from them without retreating entirely from what little social interaction I have left. As far as hells go, this one is on the lower end of the scale, but it's one whose sickly sweet approach to something that feels like it's killing me is a source of fresh torment when I just want to see something fun or marvel at how beautifully my loved ones' kids are growing up. Please just let me watch a silly video without reminding me of the pain I feel.

Next entry: $52,386.30 for surgery that didn't happen

Please help me if you can:

Posted by Andrew

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