Last December I warned here against the websites that call themselves “online pharmacy” and try to sell you “cheap” and “no-prescription-needed” anti-depression pills. The origin and quality of the pills they sell you is dubious: you don’t even know for sure what you get (unless you happen to have a chemical testing lab in your cellar). And even if you do get the real thing, you still won’t know whether this is the best medication choice for you personally. You won’t know what might be the right dose in your own case. You won’t know whether the stuff can safely be combined with other medication. You won’t know whether you need to start (or stop) taking it in gradual steps. In short, you won’t know what you need to know in order to use those pills safely.
Of course we all accept that our world is one big marketplace. It is both inevitable and reasonable that some people out there will make money from your depression: that’s just the natural way things work in our society. But that being the case, make sure your money goes to people you can trust: people who have the expertise that will give you value for money. This is especially important when this is about antidepressants that for anyone of us may make the difference between a bearable and a terrible life – or even the difference between a life and a suicide. I can only repeat here what I wrote back then: (1) always discuss your medication options with your doctor or psychiatrist; (2) if necessary ask her-or-him for a formal prescription; and (3) never buy your medication on internet but always go to a real-world pharmacy.
Apart from the shady-pill-pushers, internet has yet another kind of anti-depression-cure peddlers: the sites that try to sell you some kind of You-Don’t-Need-Any-Pills Miracle Cure. And let me tell you right away, they can be equally dangerous and just as fatal as dubious pills. May I make this clear?
First a disclaimer: no, I am not a secret propagandist of Evil. No, really, I don’t particularly like the pharmaceutic industry with all its marketing tricks. And no, I don’t want to use scores of pills that I don’t really need, so I do really try to keep my own medication to the absolute minimum. And yes, I do know that to survive depression, we need much more than medication: the right mix of sleep, exercise, food, socializing… And yes, I do know that some antidepressants have unpleasant side effects. Yes, yes, yes, I know all that. But…
I also do remember a few times when I mistakenly thought I could do without any pills: on two occasions, this promptly got me into the danger zone. It surely is nice to have confidence in your ability to manage yourself on your own. But if you are prone to serious bouts of depression, overconfidence can be lethal. I happen to have known someone with depression who killed herself last year: she might still have been alive today, if she hadn’t stubbornly refused to take any medication. So?
So today I want to highlight one typical example of the You-Don’t-Need-Any-Pills Miracle Cure website variety. I will not give you a link to that site, because I don’t want to join the dubious company of all the sleazy sites linking to it. For did you know that there are fake depression blogs online? Fabricated websites that exist just to get specific products listed when you do a Google search for “depression”? Often padded with content stolen from real blogs so they will look respectable? Sometimes obviously not written by a human, but computer-generated? When looking into this particular Miracle Cure site, I discovered it was advertised on several of such bogus “depression websites” – but I digress. More about that some other time. Back to this one Miracle Cure website I was going to tell you about.
So here you are surfing, and you find this nice-looking friendly site about “Self Help Depression Treatment”. Or you find a similar site about “Depression solutions that target the cause, not the symptoms”. Or a site about “Stress Relief”. Or one about “Anxiety Perception”. You see, with just a little searching I found out that all these sites are owned by one and the same Australian guy. He is like a fisherman with several nets in the water: he has several Miracle Cure websites running, each with a different address and different headers, but with nearly identical content. Well, let’s take a look at one of them.
His site boasts in big print that its unique depression solution is 98.6% Proven Effective. Wow! Amazing! This should be world news! And proven! Let’s see this proof then, shall we? In what manner was this tested? With how many people? Who exactly were the researchers, and in what scientific journal did they publish these absolutely remarkable test results? Oh wait… Now that’s a pity, our Australian friend forgot to add any kind of reference information. We just have to take his word for it. Maybe he did all this wonderful research himself?
In his so-called press releases on dubious push-your-product sites, he labels himself either as “Director Of Depression Research” or as “Research & Development Analyst” at Satellite Corporation. I checked some public records and yes, that’s the registered name for this man’s own homegrown business, so he can call himself anything he wants to. Does he have any kind of research or medical background then, does he have some kind of degree, did he study at all? There’s no indication of it on the website. At first glance his “about us” page has a lot of words, but when you start reading it you will find only empty, vapid phrases that tell us nothing at all. So credibility is zero: I might just as well try to convince you that my own Research Manager is Leonardo da Vinci.
I delved a little more in public records, and it looks like our Australian is indeed just a busy businessman. In 1999 he registered his company Video Membership Registry. In 2002 he renamed it Satellite Corporation, the firm behind our miracle depression cure. In 2003 he applied for an official customs broker’s license, and since 2009 he runs AUS Customs which handles custom formalities for mailing packages abroad. Satellite Corporation and AUS Customs still are one and the same business. In short, there’s no indication whatsoever that our Australian is in any way qualified to advise people about depression.
As for the stature of his company, I guess it might be a breach of privacy if I would show you the actual premises. But to give you an idea, here is a Google Streetview picture of the bustling business district in rural Tasmania where Satellite Corporation has its offices:
Let’s return to the site’s content. To make it look respectable, our Australian friend put in several pages listing depression symptoms, statistics, and more. From a distance it looks great, but judging from the content it might all just as well have been copied in bits-and-pieces from sites like Wikipedia. To judge the real value and reliability of this pile of random information bits, we would need to know more about the actual sources.
The site also has two self-test depression questionnaires: one with just ten obvious yes-or-no questions, and another one with twelve multiple-choice questions. The latter is an abridged version of Philip Snaith’s 1983 Wakefield Questionnaire that can be found on self-help sites all over the Web. Nice, but if you have any experience with being tested and diagnosed by an actual psychiatrist, then you’ll understand that for a real and reliable diagnosis, this is a bit… how shall we put this politely? Meager? Shallow?
Of course the diagnosis doesn’t really matter anyway, because the solution that our 98.6% Proven Director of Depression Research is going to propose is truly miraculous: a one-size-fits-all cure. Just a book and a CD. So how does it work?
QUOTE: “Today we have new techniques that are achieving excellent results – without medication. Once you understand the causes and effects of depression on the human mind, the solution becomes clear and simple.”
QUOTE: “Depression medications can provide some welcome short term relief for sufferers but are by design only beneficial to temporarily control extreme symptoms, not cure depression.”
QUOTE: [Our Australian] “is the Director of Research at a company whose commitment and dedication to the research and development of advanced depression treatment techniques is proving exceptionally beneficial to many people. Their techniques work by re-writing the minds negative thought patterns with positive new perceptions, thus removing the cause of depression.”
QUOTE: “Plus… The Ultimate Success Catalyst! This is the single most important component of the entire program. When you implement the Success Catalyst you are instantly increasing the speed and effectiveness of recovery by up to 700%!”
QUOTE: “The human mind operates based on a set of complex information processing principles and our unique subconscious algorithms utilize these principles to instill positive reference points, thereby breaking down the very foundations of depression and paving the way for your new stress free mindset. In addition, because the subconscious expresses an immediate application of suggestions received, most people start feeling better within just days!”
QUOTE: “These MP3 audio’s do all the subconscious seeding for you. They utilize our unique algorithm to precisely impress specific positive perceptions directly in the subconscious. With this powerful resource you will safely and effectively replace any old negative perceptions with positive new mental reference points!”
Sigh. What all this amounts to, is that our brilliant Australian friend already knows for sure what even today’s most prominent psychiatric researchers are not yet sure about: the true causes of depression. Our Australian even knows something that according to modern academic research can hardly be true: he knows that there is one single main cause of depression. That’s why he can cure all kinds of depression in all kinds of persons with just a book and a CD.
So what is this single main cause of depression? Well, it’s all in your own subconscious, it’s all just in your head, dummy! It’s just a matter of self-perception! Simply listen to some hypnotizing or subliminal MP3s to re-program your depressed brain, and within a few days you will be fine again! If you just buy this book-with-CD for the special discount price of $69, then your self-suggested depression will magically melt away and be replaced by positive thinking!
What can I say? I would like to say that if you are really dumb enough to believe all this crap, you actually deserve no better. But the problem is that out there in the real world, there may always be a vulnerable group of seriously depressed people who from the depths of their despair will try to grasp every little straw that promises them a better future. A future where all dark clouds are blown away instantly: where depression is simply and swiftly tackled at the very root, so medication (curing effects but not the cause) is no longer needed. This is what our nice Australian is trying to sell: a dream. Just a dream. But, for some, a very dangerous pipe dream.
I think our Australian buddy knows very well that his Miracle Cure cannot help prevent suicide: wisely, nowhere on his website he says that it can. He probably knows that such a claim might get him in trouble. He does mention, suggestively, that antidepressants may have unpleasant side effects. But he does not mention that – unlike some booklet with a hypno-CD – the same medication sometimes really can reduce a suicide risk.
And of course our businessman is smart enough to add some small print in a hard-to-find corner of his site, with a liability clause: when you read and use the website contents, and when you order and use the book and CD, his Satellite Corporation can in no way be held responsible for the consequences. Well done, Aussie!
As you see I am really angry, very angry, and therefore I can better stop now. I never before was so angry when writing a post, and I hope it will never happen again. But we’re not quite done with this yet. One of the things that was emphasized by our Australian friend, is the reasoning that any depression therapy should tackle the cause rather than the effects. This sounds like a very wise and sensible and self-evident argument (which is why it is used so often, in many very different contexts). But in fact there are a few problems with it. This causes-and-effects thing is important enough for a separate post. Soon. And less angry, I promise.
• tip: Two tips this time.
(1) If you feel seriously depressed for a longer period and you think something should be done, do not make therapy decisions based on some online self-test for depression, but instead get yourself properly diagnosed by a qualified expert.
(2) If you use antidepressants and you are feeling fairly well, it may be very tempting to try out how you might do without medication, because “if it doesn’t work out I can always start taking my pills again”. As I myself found out the hard way, this can be extremely dangerous. So, if you decide to stop using your medication, always first talk about this with the person who prescribed it to you.