What Antidepressant Commercials Get Wrong About Depression

We’ve all seen those commercials. The ones that typically feature older, nice-looking, well-dressed people going about their daily lives with slightly pained expressions on their faces, sighing and saying they simply don’t enjoy things the way they used to. And then they take the magic pills and suddenly they are smiling and enjoying life again.

For years, these commercials were my only exposure to this mysterious thing called depression. And they perplexed me. Why did these people feel sad all the time? Why did they need these pills to be happy? How was this considered a medical issue?

If I hadn’t gone on to experience severe depression firsthand, I probably never would have learned what it truly was. My concept of it would have come only from what those commercials have shown me. But now that I know better, I’m amazed at how all the commercial portrayals of depression are dead wrong.

Depression doesn’t just make a person feel sad all the time. It sucks the life out of a person, to the point where they can’t feel anything at all. It doesn’t just take away your enjoyment of your favorite activities. It makes you dread the things you once used to love, to the point where just the thought of them brings you pain. Depression can make getting out of bed, let alone leaving the house, seem torturous. Depression can cause incessant guilt, frequent fits of rage and the desire to end your life. Thus, it can tear apart every aspect of a person’s life, especially relationships with friends and family. It makes waking up each morning feel like entering your own personal hell.

Furthermore, these commercials usually never show young people struggling with depression. Therefore I had thought for years that depression was an “old person” problem. Receiving my diagnosis at 14 felt bizarre to me. I felt as though I didn’t have the right to be depressed, as I was so young, with so little life experience or responsibilities. I didn’t know at the time that mental health issues often develop in severity during adolescence and young adulthood.

Another misleading thing about these commercials is they make it look like antidepressants can completely cure you. But they are nowhere near that simple. Antidepressants may assist in balancing you out, but they are not magical. They are not happy pills. Even while taking them, I still feel the effects of depression. I still have days when I cannot function. I still feel the numbness and irritability, the fatigue and the guilt. Antidepressants don’t cure me — they make it possible for me to function. They make all these things easier to bear.

I think if antidepressant commercials were more accurate in their representation, depression would be taken more seriously. People would have a better understanding of it, and would see it as an illness and not just an emotion. They would see the effects depression can have on a person, and know why medication for mental health issues is so important. And people would no longer have unrealistic expectations of antidepressants. There would be a better understanding of what they are truly for.

These commercials are an opportunity to reach widespread audiences and educate them on mental health issues, an opportunity I think is not recognized. I hope as we make strides in fighting the stigma and misconceptions of depression and other mental illnesses, the flaws with these commercials will be widely recognized and fixed.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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