Mental health care and the pharmaceutical industry

mental health care

Marcin Rodzinka, Project Coordinator at Mental Health Europe explains how transparency between the pharma industry and health professionals can influence the quality of mental health care in Europe today

Mental health care is one of the most influenced sectors by the pharmaceutical industry. Every year, a plethora of new medication and treatments are introduced to the market and to mental health professionals.

While the progress and evolution of new treatments may be helpful for some people living with mental ill health, they should not be considered unique or automatic solutions for everyone experiencing mental distress. Taking a pill will never be a substitute for integrated mental-health care and support and that is why it is crucial to ensure relationships between the industry and doctors are transparent and irreproachable.

Cooperation between the ‘Big Pharma’ and healthcare practitioners often involves financial flows or agreements where a few grey areas remain. Recent research has highlighted that receiving even small items funded by the industry, such as free meals or goodies, were associated with an increased rate of prescribing for the medication being promoted. This is concerning since it may lead to over-prescription and overuse of certain medications which might not always be required.

Over the years, the pharmaceutical industry has undoubtedly played an important role in putting drug treatment at the centre of modern psychiatry. Its powerful influence is not only rooted in its ties with health professionals but also through pharma-funded research, which is more likely to find favourable results to drug treatments. Yet, recent and controversial research has underlined that the benefits of antidepressants and antipsychotics tend to be overemphasised and some of the risks poorly reported.

Relationships between the industry and doctors are important, providing they remain healthy and transparent and focused on patients’ health. Biased research results and unbalanced relationships, on the other hand, may reinforce a narrow biological conception of the nature of mental ill health which understates the adverse effects of psychiatric drugs.

Patients’ choices and quality of care should be at the centre of any treatment

Mental ill-health cannot be considered as a disease or illness caused by purely biological or neurological factors: it is important to look at a person’s life and social environment, treating these factors as equally important in understanding both well-being and mental ill health. It is now widely acknowledged that appropriate mental health care cannot solely be based on medication: integrated mental health care must look first at the root cause of a problem and an experience rather that trying to treat the ‘symptoms’ only with medication.

However, the lack of transparency between pharma and healthcare providers may lead to situations where not enough consideration is given to informed consent of people seeking professional help for their mental health, alternatives to medications and the possibility of discontinuing medications. A survey published in The Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics has shown that 52% of patients would like to know whether their practitioner has a financial relationship with the pharmaceutical industry. Surveys like this show there is real demand and concern for transparency in healthcare.

The transparency issue in mental health care is a particularly crucial one. Without transparency, there could be a lack of fully informed choice for doctors and patients, over-medicalisation of mental health and a worrying reliance on drugs as the main form of treatment for mental ill health.

Our vision of effective and appropriate mental health care should not be shaped by the marketing budgets and interpretation of results of pharmaceutical and medical technologies (MedTech) industries. It is encouraging to see that some countries have decided to address the issue by adopting and implementing sunshine and transparency laws, regulations, or codes across Europe. This paves the way for more harmonised and transparent relationships between the industry and healthcare professionals.

Independent health professionals informed and empowered patients, as well as transparent and collaborative relations between the pharmaceutical industry and the mental health sector, are key elements to ensure adequate and appropriate healthcare, which places patients at the centre of the process.


Marcin Rodzinka

Project Coordinator

Mental Health Europe

Tel: +32 2 227 27 08


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