When we hear about serious problems caused by psychiatric medicines in the news, we often notice a pattern – the media tends to highlight positive aspects of the medicines as well. But why does this happen? Let’s explore five main reasons that lead to such overly positive portrayals of psychiatric medicines in the media.
Reason 1: The Balance Confusion:
Journalists learn in school that they should present both sides of a story to be fair. But there are times when this doesn’t make sense. Imagine talking about Hitler – mentioning that he liked dogs doesn’t balance out the harm he caused. Sometimes, trying to show both sides can actually confuse people. When both sides get equal attention, it might seem like there’s still a debate, even when there isn’t – like how we know smoking is harmful or that human-made climate change is real.
Reason 2: Personal Experiences Bias Judgment:
Sometimes, journalists or their friends and family use psychiatric medicines. When you do that, you might think the medicines are helping because you feel better. But our personal experiences don’t always match with scientific evidence. Even though we might feel better, we can’t be sure we wouldn’t have improved without the medicines.
Reason 3: Money Talks:
Money from the pharmaceutical industry can influence what gets reported. Sometimes, newspapers turn down stories critical of medicines because they’re scared of losing advertising money from pharmaceutical companies. This makes it hard to get the whole picture.
Reason 4: Fear of Backlash:
Editors worry about the trouble they might face if they publish stories critical of medicines. They might face strong protests from powerful people who support the medicines, often because they’re tied to the pharmaceutical industry. Sometimes, journalists even get fired for reporting the truth.
Reason 5: Blind Trust in Healthcare Leaders:
While journalists often question what politicians say, they tend to believe statements from powerful healthcare figures without much doubt. But these leaders often have their own interests, like receiving money from pharmaceutical companies for giving talks, and they could be trying to protect these companies.
The Script for Reporting Psychiatric Medicines:
Here’s an example to help understand how this works. Imagine a news report about a young person named Dylan who died by suicide after taking a medicine called sertraline. Instead of giving clear and accurate information, the report might include misleading statements that don’t tell the whole story.
Misleading Information in the Report:
- The report might say, “We’re not sure if antidepressants work for young people under 18.” But we actually know that they don’t work well for children.
- They might mention, “Some evidence suggests that people aged 18-24 have a higher risk of suicide on these medicines.” This is incomplete information. Proper studies show that these medicines double the risk of suicide in young people, which is a big deal.
- A doctor might say, “Only one in 50 young people might have more suicidal thoughts when they start these medicines.” This underestimates the real danger – these medicines can double the risk of suicide.
- The report might include stories of people who say the medicines saved their lives. But in reality, these medicines can actually increase the risk of suicide and have harmful side effects.
Journalists can do better by being more accurate and straightforward. Instead of relying on misleading statements, they should report the truth, even if it’s critical. They can seek expert opinions from sources that have a solid understanding of the topic, rather than just repeating what powerful figures say.
It’s important to realize that media doesn’t always give us the full story about psychiatric medicines. Sometimes, the information is skewed because of reasons like trying to show “balance,” personal biases, money from pharmaceutical companies, fear of backlash, or undue trust in healthcare leaders. Journalists can improve by presenting accurate and unbiased information, helping us make informed decisions about our health.
This article first appeared in Mad in America and the original version can be read here. This is an AI generated synopsis of the article for a South Asian audience.
Peter C. Gøtzsche, MD has published more than 80 papers in the top five general medical journals and his scientific works have been cited over 150,000 times. He has published several books relevant to psychiatry, including Deadly Psychiatry and Organised Denial, Mental Health Survival Kit and Withdrawal from Psychiatric Drugs, and Critical Psychiatry Textbook. He is currently crowdfunding for his Institute for Scientific Freedom with the goal of preserving honesty and integrity in science. He was the co-founder of Cochrane Collaboration and the former leader of the Nordic Cochrane Center.