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Weird Psychiatric Ads Of The Seventies

There’s a really famous ad for thorazine, a drug that came out in the fifties and was the first effective antipsychotic.

Less well-known are all the other weird, wonderful and creepy psychiatric ads from the past century.

I was able to find a journal that had an archive of all its ads from the 1970s and a tiny slice of the 60s (no luck getting before then) and thought I’d share some of my favorites and what I learned.

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ADHD, formerly ADD, was even more formerly MBD for Minimal Brain Dysfunction. This ad from the late ’70s shows there’s already a gray line between ADHD and normal mischeviousness, and Ritalin is already the preferred treatment (and has been since the early sixties).

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Following in thorazine’s footsteps of including giant scary eyes in psychiatric ads. This is going to be a recurring theme.

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More minimal brain dysfunction. “Cylert (pemoline) will not in itself “enhance learning” or resolve difficult behavioral problems. But it can increase attention span in the hyperkinetic child and reduce the impulsivity that often interferes with the learning process”.

The Goodenough-Harris Draw A Person Test has since been found (contra nominative determinism) to correlate only very weakly with real IQ tests for preschoolers. It has thus fallen out of favor, which is too bad as it led to some very cute scientific papers

Anyway, I guess we’re supposed to be excited that Cylert can make kids sit still enough to add stripes to a guy’s shirt. I’m going to hold out until they can make them not have weird nets for shoes.

Side effects of Cylert® may include holding your arms rigidly straight out to the sides all the time like you’re being crucified or something.

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I was talking with Chris H and a few other people a couple of posts back about how pharmacotherapy used to be viewed (at least officially) as an adjunct for talk therapy. This ad is a good demonstration: “Whatever other therapeutic facilities have been developed, the psychiatrist’s office still represents the setting in which the psychoanalytic process recognizes its fullest potential. Frequently, however, an antidepressant must be employed to foster a working therapeutic relationship. With effective symptomatic relief often provided by ELAVIL, depressed patients may be able to concentrate on underlying factors instead of somatic manifestations.”

I wonder to what degree this was something you had to say to be viewed as a responsible psychiatrist back then: “Oh yeah, obviously it’s the Freudian psychoanalysis that’s really important, but maybe some of these drugs can, well, sort of help a little so we can get to Freudian psychoanalysis faster.” And to what degree everyone was in on the charade but didn’t want to torpedo their reputations by departing from it.

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Another ad following in Thorazine’s footsteps of “make antipsychotic ads as creepy and psychotic-looking as possible.”

A couple days ago I asked my boss what the pharmacological differences between Haldol and [several similar drugs] were. He said there were no important differences at all. I asked him why, if that were so, everyone uses Haldol and almost no one uses any of the others. He said it was because Haldol had a better advertising campaign back in the day – which is what led me to look at old psychiatric ads in the first place.

So if any of you are in the public relations field, remember: melting faces sells.

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We’re not saying you should slip very powerful drugs into in your patient’s drink without their knowledge. We’re just saying if you do, do it with Haldol®!

My impression is that this used to be a lot more common, but still goes on in certain situations, especially with the demented elderly.

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In Soviet Russia, bird cages you! But if bird cages you, and you not in Soviet Russia, is extremely worrying sign. Should seek medical help immediately.

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Another “we’re only using drugs for between the psychotherapeutic interviews” ad.

Dexamyl is a combination of amphetamine and a barbituate. Apparently at one time, giving people a really strong addictive upper and a really strong addictive downer together was considered such a good idea that it was advertised in psychiatric journals – and commonly used to perk up tired housewives.

My instict would be that the upper and downer would cancel out, leaving people about how they were before except with a host of terrible side effects. But when I Google it I get a lot of people who said the barbituate cancelled out the side effects of the amphetamine and they felt great on Dexamyl and it is their greatest regret in life that it is no longer available. So maybe my instincts are wrong and we should all be taking amphetamines mixed with barbituates all the time.

According to Wikipedia, UK PM Anthony Eden was on Dexamyl when he screwed up the Suez Crisis, which doesn’t surprise me at all.

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People with tortoise shells inside bigger tortoise shells. Eyes growing on thorny stalks of grass. Lips bursting forth from the earth. Some kind of weird spectral Death hanging out in the background. Sure, the name of the drug involved is so small I can’t read it, but making it any bigger would have ruined the artistic vision.

Also, you really need to stop with all the eyes in your antipsychotic ads.

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NO I DIDN’T MEAN IT LIKE THAT! EYES WHERE THERE SHOULD BE EYES! NO EYES WHERE THERE SHOULDN’T BE EYES! OKAY?

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Ah, screw it, close enough.

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Whatever.

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Is…is that a syllepsis? Did you just include a syllepsis in a psychiatric ad? Cooooooool.

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Photography puns age about as well as…well, as the biogenic amine hypothesis of depression.

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This is a nice ad. It makes me want to take Sinequan. Why can’t the Navane ads be more like this one?

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Side effects of Loxitane® may include infuriating vagueness.

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NO YOU FOOL DON’T LET THE BIRD OUT OF THE CAGE NOW IT’S GOING TO PUT YOU IN THE CAGE AND YOU WILL NEED NAVANE®.

Prolixin is one of the drugs that is very similar to Haldol but never caught on because of poor advertising. The moral of the story is – doves are out, melting faces are in.

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Release her from severe anxiety. Then she can open up to you. You ask her how she’s doing. She smiles bashfully, places a hand on your knee. Should you? Shouldn’t you? You clasp her hand. Everything’s going to be all right, you tell her.

‘This may be a little forward’, she asks, ‘but would you ever date a patient? You know, if the right one came along?’ ‘I’m married’, you tell her. ‘Oh!’ she says, horrified, and her mouth forms this adorable little O shape ‘I didn’t mean –‘. You cut her off. ‘But my wife isn’t here’ you say, and lean in, kissing her on the lips. She leans into your mouth passionately. You grab a breast. Her hand reaches for your crotch.

‘We shouldn’t,’ she says, suddenly. ‘We should,’ you say. ‘Run away with me, and we’ll leave your severe anxiety far behind’. ‘Where would we go?’ she asks. ‘I don’t know,’ you say. ‘France? Venice? Anywhere but here.’ She kisses you again. ‘Anywhere,’ she repeats, ‘just as long as I can bring my Serax.’

Side effects of Serax® (oxazepam) may include marital strain, divorce, unintended pregnancy, and gonorrhea.

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Is…is that guy writing Finnegan’s Wake?

Serentil was withdrawn a couple of years ago after it was found to cause dangerous cardiac side effects.

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I have no idea who that guy is, but screw him.

I wonder if I can trace some kind of evolution here from “drugs will get your patients ready for psychotherapy” to “drugs will help your patients who are refractory to psychotherapy”.

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This was how we had to represent people’s thoughts before we had Photoshop’s “blur edges” filter. Just a big square stuck in the middle of their head.

For some reason I can’t imagine any modern ad using the name “George Harris”. I don’t know if it’s just that they wouldn’t use any name, or that they wouldn’t use one that aggressively normal-sounding.

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This ad seems to be going for “mysteriously creepy but hard to put your finger on why”. But that “…with good reason” definitely doesn’t help.

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I knew something was missing from my life!

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They rewrote it to get rid of the syllepsis! :( :( :( Why would you do that?

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Calm.

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34 Responses to Weird Psychiatric Ads Of The Seventies

  1. kappa says:

    NO I DIDN’T MEAN IT LIKE THAT! EYES WHERE THERE SHOULD BE EYES! NO EYES WHERE THERE SHOULDN’T BE EYES! OKAY?

    Pffffffffffffhahahahahahahahahahahahahaha.

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  2. Anthony says:

    Missed opportunity:
    Sinequan, the sine qua non of depression treatment!

    “Basic anxieties” (the EYES!) reminds me of Alfred Hitchcock.

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    • Scott Alexander says:

      I think very likely that was an intended subliminal message.

      Drugs are so difficult to understand that I think these subliminal messages have a lot of power. I think people expect Effexor to be effective, Seroquel to be serene, Paxil to be peaceful, et cetera.

      And when I say “people”, I don’t mean patients, I mean doctors, who are the ones prescribing them and so usually the ones the companies are trying to market to

      I would love to one day do a study on whether Effexor is considered more effective than it would be by chance, but hard to do since it is legitimately quite an effective drug and a competitor (of potentially different effectiveness) wouldn’t make a fair control. Maybe brand name versus chemical name? But that brings in different confounders.

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      • Nornagest says:

        That’s obvious enough that I’m not sure it even counts as subliminal. It’s like naming your bad guy “Dethmold”.

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      • Elithrion says:

        I think the thing to do would be to come up with fictional drug names, give them descriptions about their effectiveness, side effects, etc., and compare them to neutral fictional drug names with similar descriptions. E.g. Excellor vs Sinedil. Or something.

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      • Toby Bartels says:

        These days drugs are pretty aggressively marketed at patients, at least here in the USA. These ads used to say ‘Ask your doctor about […]’, but that clause is no longer considered necessary. (Of course, I’m sure that the doctors also see ads —at the very least the drug rep leaves behind pens and calendars—, and the ads featured in this post are obviously marketed at them.)

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  3. gattsuru says:

    For some reason I can’t imagine any modern ad using the name “George Harris”. I don’t know if it’s just that they wouldn’t use any name, or that they wouldn’t use one that aggressively normal-sounding.

    I’d expect, but lack the tools to verify, that we don’t use full names in psychiatric literature in the first place, and thus ads now avoid names at all because using them would look unprofessional. If that theory is correct, I’d expect the change to begin with the development of privacy standards (and eventually laws) in the late-80s to mid-90s.

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    • AJD says:

      It’s also the case that the name “George” in particular is more out of fashion now than it was 40 years ago, and probably therefore less likely to be chosen as a generic name in an ad. (The median George is 60 years old, and it’s declined from one of the top-10 most common baby names to outside the top 100.)

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    • Ano says:

      Adding in the last name here just seems to add unnecessary specification and formality. Does it really matter what George’s last name is, for the purposes of telling us about his depression?

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      • Elithrion says:

        Probably this dates from a time when addressing others by first name only was more uncommon, so writing “George Harris” is a way of avoiding having to choose between the overly intimate “George” and the awkward “Mr. Harris”. I would guess!

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    • Thasvaddef says:

      It sounded odd to me because it made me think of George Harrison…

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  4. Vilhelm S says:

    lol!

    If the best thing you can quote from “the record” is

    Certain favourable trends were exhibited in the side effects profile; these require further tests and broader clinical experience for confirmation.

    that seems like damning with faint praise…

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    • Scott Alexander says:

      My source was usually very good at keeping both pages of two page ads together. But it’s possible they missed one here and there’s something else.

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  5. Sniffnoy says:

    “George Harris” is pretty close to “George Harrison”, which interferes a bit.

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  6. Ialdabaoth says:

    I did not know Cylert caused liver disfunction!

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  7. suntzuanime says:

    I get what they’re driving at, but it still kinda squicks me out to see “unusual thought content” as something that needs psychiatric treatment.

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  8. MC says:

    I must have no artistic sense, because I thought the human figure drawing on the left was Goodenough.

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  9. Douglas Knight says:

    melting faces sells

    interesting grammatical choice

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  10. Sharif Olorin says:

    Stimulants + downers are extremely common in recreational use. To see why, just think about the relative mechanisms of action – amphetamine is a DNRI/DNRA (depending on dose and chirality), and barbiturates are GABA agonists. People taking barbiturates on their own don’t feel like they’ve taken an antipsychotic (or something else that works approximately-directly counter to a psychostimulant neurochemically), but the anxiolytic effect would help reduce the anxiety that often goes with stimulant use. You see the same thing with strong opioid + strong stimulant (‘speedballs’).

    Of course, this is a highly dangerous thing to be prescribing people. Overdose deaths are really common, for one thing, and it’s also obviously highly addictive. Not to mention the seizures if they take it a little too long and then stop.

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  11. adbge says:

    Another ad following in Thorazine’s footsteps of “make antipsychotic ads as creepy and psychotic-looking as possible.”

    Th͞e o̶bviǫus evolu̢tion͜ is t͘o̕ ̕s͡t̡a͢rt ̵s͢ubtl̛y̕ ̷d̢aḿa͠g͠in͏g the͝ ̵̕te̛xt͏ ̶͘a̸͟s̨ t̶̕h̢͢è͞ ҉ad͘͡ g̷͟o͏̶e͠s ̨͠o̕͜n̸̸͢.

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  12. lambdaphage says:

    Julian Jaynes would have had a field day.

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  13. Thasvaddef says:

    The first one looks like an advert for moloko plus

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  14. James says:

    The eyes on stalks in the tortoise shell one look like they’re right out of the Codex Seraphinianus!

    The typeface on Sinequan really conjures up the era. I think they might have used it on a particular paperback edition of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintainance.

    I love the very simple text-on-beige (or white) aesthetic of ‘classy’ ads of that era. Things like watch advertisements in old copies of the National Geographic look just the same. And I feel like there’s a particular prose style (jokey, casual, but authoritative) that goes with it.

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  15. James says:

    I also think the typeface for Thorazine is the same one that Douglas Hofstadter used for the titles in GEB.

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  16. Lumifer says:

    My favorite from this type of posters is this: https://www.flickr.com/photos/sa_steve/2906373060/

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  17. Paul Torek says:

    Side effects may include writing copy for Dr. Stephen T. Colbert, D.F.A., and “Prescott Pharmaceuticals”. Now, while there’s still time!

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