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Resisting stigma and evaluating realism in a direct-to-consumer advertisement for psychiatric drugs

Tara Walker (Jandoli School of Communication, Saint Bonaventure University, New York, Saint Bonaventure, USA)

International Journal of Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Marketing

ISSN: 1750-6123

Article publication date: 11 August 2021

Issue publication date: 27 October 2021




This study aims to examine how experience with mental illness influences perceptions of stigma and realism in a specific direct-to-consumer advertisement (DTCA) for bipolar depression.


An online survey had participants watch a 90 s advertisement for a prescription bipolar depression drug and then answer 24 questions about stigma, mental illness experience and the realism of the portrayals in the advertisement.


Findings show that people who identify as having experience with mental illness tend to see the ad as more stigmatizing and less realistic. Additionally, people who expressed more stigmatizing beliefs also tended to see more stigma present in the ad. Finally, the study reconfirms conclusions of previous research that people who have experience with mental health conditions possess fewer stigmatizing beliefs overall regarding mental illness.

Research limitations/implications

The sample population, while diverse in age and somewhat diverse in location, were highly educated, suggesting that they were not representative of the general population. Future studies may want to use more representative samples. A more nuanced approach to understanding experience is needed. While the sample in this study was purposively derived from communities with a higher rate of mental illness, a comprehensive experience scale to measure degrees of experience with mental illness would enhance understanding of this construct. Researchers may also want to look more deeply into the emotional responses of consumers who view these ads. To develop a greater understanding of the trajectory of DTCA, studies of online advertising for psychiatric drugs are needed.

Practical implications

The results of the study suggest that respondents with experience with mental illness may find ads that sell psychiatric medications unrealistic. This study presents the topic of realism in DTCA as an important construct for determining how consumers may perceive portrayals of disorders.

Social implications

The fact that people who have experience with mental illness found the Latuda ad to be generally unrealistic suggests that DTCA may be failing to represent mental illness in a way that demonstrates care for patients. Additionally, this research confirms that people who have had exposure to and experience with mental illness tend to hold less stigmatizing beliefs, (Link and Cullen, 1986; Corrigan et al., 2001; Angermeyer et al., 2004) a finding which supports the continuing project of increasing mental health literacy and awareness in the general population.


This study investigates the reactions of people who identify as having some experience with mental illness to see if they accept the portrayals of mental illness in DTCA or resist them by challenging their realism or identifying stigmatizing elements.



Walker, T. (2021), "Resisting stigma and evaluating realism in a direct-to-consumer advertisement for psychiatric drugs", International Journal of Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Marketing, Vol. 15 No. 4, pp. 550-571.



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