Disease Mongering

April 10th, 2007

What you didn’t know you always needed

By Mike Berlin

Do you often worry about life, your physical appearance, or aging? Do you feel fatigued, restless, or tense at work or home? Do you find activities that used to be enjoyable, challenging?

If you answered, “yes,” to one or more of these questions, you may be living an extremely unfulfilling life. But according to the makers of Havidol, the only known medication for Dsyphoric Social Attention Consumption Deficit Anxiety Disorder (DSACDAD), there is hope. “When more is not enough,” you can start living life to its fullest and it all starts with one simple call to your doctor. To learn more, refer to www.havidol.com.

As you may have guessed, there is no such thing as DSACDAD. But in early March, Justine Cooper, an Australian artist, presented this full-scale drug parody online including testimonials, side effects, a diagnosis quiz, and even a motivational mantra (“Attain, Achieve, Aspire!”) among other materials. Check out the website and laugh all you want at the lengths to which Cooper crafted this moneymaker that puts Zoloft or Paxil to shame. Be forewarned: she almost got away with it.

The website, generating millions of hits since it opened, inspired many to probe for the unabashedly vague symptoms listed. Some medical websites had even begun adding DSACDAD to the ranks of disorders, preparing for the outpouring of individuals searching for “more” in their lives. And of course, physicians and doctors heard “Tell me more about Havidol!”

Under the jovial surface of this Punk’d episode, Cooper cuts deep into the American psyche, playing up our willingness to jump on the next miracle cure that presents itself. And why shouldn’t we, seeing that Americans are being brought up on a healthcare industry that thrives on disease-mongering?

“As the drug companies are running out of real diseases to boost their pharmaceutical sales, they’re increasingly inventing new, fictitious diseases in order to scare people into thinking they have some sort of disorder or dysfunction,” writes health guru and author Mike Adams on NewsTarget.com.

Adams is also the creator of the online “Disease Mongering Engine,” a tool that generates creative diseases like Reactive Erectile Deficit Disorder with Smelly Feet (REDDWSF) or Paranoid Antisocial Sleepwalking Disorder (PASD), both mordantly plucking actual terms from the American Psychological Association’s Diagnostic Manual (DSM). The device also provides useful get-filthy-rich-quick steps for crafting the perfect drug treatment scheme, including lying about harmful side effects, creating commercials with unhappy, confused people being enlightened, and bribing various doctors and government officials.

What makes these instructions particularly poignant lies in a study conducted a year ago by Lisa Cosgrove, a clinical psychologist at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. Her findings identified an overwhelming percentage of experts involved in the most recent shaping of the DSM who were linked to drug firms.

“I don’t think the public is aware of how egregious the financial ties are in the field of psychiatry,” said Cosgrove in a Washington Post article dated April 20, 2006.

As the APA stands behind what’s left of its integrity, many wait with bated breath for 2011, when the next revision of the DSM is scheduled. So what’s on the chopping block for this round? And what disorders are ruining your life whether you know it or not: only the most pressing psychological epidemics, such as Caffeine Withdrawal (CW), Compulsive Shopping Disorder (CSD), Political Apathy Disorder (PAD) and, at this rate, DSACDAD.

And it won’t be unbelievable if any of these disorders pass the mark. Some probably will. Just sit back and watch the overpriced antidepressants and muscle relaxers roll in. Maybe now we’ll be able to care passionately about the next local election, or put an end to our wicked desire to buy things.

For me, this mongering phenomenon doesn’t come as a shock, given the recent crazes focused on ADD, ADHD, and the newest, whiniest addition to the family, Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). ODD, characterized by children who often lose their temper, argue with adults, and are deliberately annoying screams out as a ploy for family therapists to rake in some extra cash.

And this brings me to my latest gripe: Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS).

Much like the estimated 10% of Earth’s population, I recently found out that I have RLS. Many times in class, fellow students have wondered whether my legs are battery-operated or solar-powered. When I settle down for bed, I just can’t seem to find a comfortable position and my legs are moving constantly. It sometimes takes me a half hour or even an hour to get to sleep. Thank goodness the FDA approved Ropinirole (a drug previously used on Parkinson’s disease) for RLS treatment. I’ll be cured in no time!

Look closer and you’ll find some obvious explanations for many a common malady. Do the drug companies and psychological experts think that having urges to shop is abnormal in our capitalistic society? Would they really characterize the political views on many students’ Facebook accounts as personality disorders? Do they actually think that our obesity-ridden, exercise-starved population wouldn’t be restless after a day of sitting around and eating fast food?

An attractive, middle-aged man rises from beneath the water, resting his arms on the pool’s ledge. He says in a chipper voice, “I used to feel great and raring to go. I was happy about everything, satisfied with my performance and appearance, generally just pleased with myself. I now know that I have a serious condition, millions of people do.”

He goes through those same vague symptoms listed above, smiles promising hope into the camera and says, “But now…there’s Havidol. Havidol is a revolutionary new breakthrough in medicine technology. It helps me excel in achieving the things I didn’t even know I was missing! Havidol: When more is not enough.”

Mike Berlin is a junior psychology and writing major who really does have-it-all. Email him at mberlin2 [at] ithaac.edu.

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