Making meaning of media messages: How women interact with the messages in direct-to-consumer antidepressant advertisements
Television is a medium through which dominant cultural ideologies about health and illness circulate. Direct-to-consumer (DTC) drug advertisements, such as those for antidepressants, communicate a distinct image of illness and intervention, and have the potential to shape how we understand these experiences. Though there has been much debate on whether such advertising should be permitted, as well as explorations of their impact, there is an absence of qualitative research on how the public interacts with and makes meaning of these ads. The purpose of this study was to explore the ways in which the public interacts with the messages related to depression and its treatment in DTC antidepressant ads shown on television. Six semi-structured focus groups of 1-2 hours, with 4-6 female participants per group were conducted. Within each group, 2-3 DTC antidepressant ads were viewed, followed by a discussion after each viewing. Focusing on the function of language, discourse analysis was the methodology chosen to explore how the women took up and negotiated the messages within the ads. I show how the women problematized the presentation of depression and its treatment within the ads, often positioning the ads as falling short due to various oversimplifications of depression and treatment. More specifically, they evidenced a reclaiming of normal and depression, as well as a caution in engaging with and staking claims to these categories. This research provides a more in-depth understanding as to how these ads can impact women, who are over-represented in those who are prescribed antidepressants, and how women can take on and challenge the messages in these ads.
Depression, Media, Antidepressants, Advertisements, Discourse, TV, Direct-to-consumer
Master of Arts (M.A.)
Culture and Human Development