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Tuesday · July 22 2003

The American Gallery of Psychiatric Art is an eye opening collection of advertisements for psychiatric drugs from 1960-2000. The organization of the images over time clearly mimics our changing attitudes towards mental illness.

The exhibit starts with an Orwellian inspired illustration for Thorazine from 1962. The other ads from the 60s are similarly dark and almost disturbing, particularly the alien image for Tofranil. The 1965 image for Valium is outright scary.

Loxitane used a white faced mime to demonstrate the effects of schizophrenia in 1975. No comment on that. Perhaps the first documented ad that speaks of even a glimmer of hope is Ativan's 1987 piece with the Sun peaking out from behind the shadow of Earth.

The ads from the 1990s use less realistic images of mental illness: cartoons, abstract and expressionistic art, and photographs of healed patients. By 1993, the focus of psychiatric ads is clearly placed on the bright, healed future instead of the incapacitating current symptoms. Women on Wellbutrin and Prozac are smiling. Pastel drawn characters are cheerful from the effects of Humoryl and Serzone. Ambien brings peaceful slumber under a soft crescent moon.

The changes in theme over time strongly reflect society's openness about mental illness. We're not as embarrassed about the psychiatric drugs in our medicine cabinets. Advertisements for these pills and treatments are indistinguishable from other ads today. The images lead us to a sunny, healed tomorrow beyond the anxiety, depression, fear and rage of the past.

What you had to say:
November 24 2003

You could also say that this represents a change from selling ads to people who deal with the horrors of mental illness to selling them to the general public as a popular "happy pill".

© 2003 Jason Keglovitz