Sunday, February 28, 2010

Antidepressants in Japanese market

This is an excerpt of the article "Did Antidepressants Depressed Japan?" by *Kathryn Schulz published in The New York Time in August 22, 2004:

"For 1,500 years of Japanese history, Buddhism has encouraged the acceptance of sadness and discouraged the pursuit of happiness -- a fundamental distinction between Western and Eastern attitudes. The first of Buddhism's four central precepts is: suffering exists. Because sickness and death are inevitable, resisting them brings more misery, not less. ''Nature shows us that life is sadness, that everything dies or ends,'' Hayao Kawai, a clinical psychologist who is now Japan's commissioner of cultural affairs, said. ''Our mythology repeats that; we do not have stories where anyone lives happily ever after.'' Happiness is nearly always fleeting in Japanese art and literature. That bittersweet aesthetic, known as aware, prizes melancholy as a sign of sensitivity.

This traditional way of thinking about suffering helps to explain why mild depression was never considered a disease. ''Melancholia, sensitivity, fragility -- these are not negative things in a Japanese context,'' Tooru Takahashi, a psychiatrist who worked for Japan's National Institute of Mental Health for 30 years, explained. ''It never occurred to us that we should try to remove them, because it never occurred to us that they were bad.''

The medical model of depression, by contrast, sees suffering as pathological and prescribes a pill in response. That outlook is partly pragmatic: call depression a disease and health insurance covers its treatment.

Patient advocates also argue that reclassifying depression as a disease helps to diminish its stigma. But probably most important, the pharmaceutical industry has the financial incentive to recast moods as medical problems, creating what Kleinman calls ''a pharmacology of remorse and regret.'' It is, Kleinman said, ''one of the most powerful aspects of globalization, and Japan is at its leading edge.''

In the late 1980's, Eli Lilly decided against selling Prozac in Japan after market research there revealed virtually no demand for antidepressants. Throughout the 90's, when Prozac and other selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or S.S.R.I.'s, were traveling the strange road from chemical compound to cultural phenomenon in the West, the drugs and the disease alike remained virtually unknown in Japan.

Then, in 1999, a Japanese company, Meiji Seika Kaisha, began selling the S.S.R.I. Depromel. Meiji was among the first users of the phrase kokoro no kaze. The next year, GlaxoSmithKline -- maker of the antidepressant Paxil -- followed Meiji into the market. Koji Nakagawa, GlaxoSmithKline's product manager for Paxil, explained: ''When other pharmaceutical companies were giving up on developing antidepressants in Japan, we went ahead for a very simple reason: the successful marketing in the United States and Europe.''

Direct-to-consumer drug advertising is illegal in Japan, so the company relied on educational campaigns targeting mild depression. As Nakagawa put it: ''People didn't know they were suffering from a disease. We felt it was important to reach out to them.'' So the company formulated a tripartite message: ''Depression is a disease that anyone can get. It can be cured by medicine. Early detection is important.''

Like the Bush administration, GlaxoSmithKline has spent the last four years staying relentlessly on-message. Its 1,350 Paxil-promoting medical representatives visit selected doctors an average of twice a week. Awareness campaigns teach general practitioners and the public to recognize the following symptoms of depression (the translation is the company's): ''head feels heavy, cannot sleep, stiff shoulders, backache, tired and lazy, no appetite, not intrigued, feel depressed.'' "

Read the entire article here.
Bob Fiddaman has dedicated some of his posts about the way Paxil/Seroxat is being sell in Japan. Read some of them here.

*Kathryn Schulz is a freelance writer and editor at large of Grist Magazine. She was a Spring 2004 Pew Fellow in international journalism.



I write about Kathryn's article in my book Ana.

It's a deeply researched account isn't it.


Ana said...

I just know this article but I noticed that you were publishing about GSK in Japan a long time ago.
Good job!!!!!!!!!!!

東京カウンセリングサービス said...

The Times articles never get it right. Ely Lilly tried at least twice to get Prozac approved by the Ministry of Health in Japan but failed to complete the clinical trials each time and abandoned their attempts each time, the last time being in 2004. Also articles like this also lay too much emphasis on America's influence and none on the work and effort of Japanese mental health care professionals such as psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, mental facility nursees and psychiaric social workers. In addition this kind of view always focuses on the SSRI group of anti-depressants in Japan which as you say the first one to be approved was in May 1999. However such articles always fail to take into account the fact that the former well used group of anti-depressants such as the Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs)
which were usesd for many years before in the treatment of major depression and also the MAO's which were also available here long before the SSRIs and used in the treatment of depression. One point more: the phrase "cold of the heart" was coined by a Japanese copywriter and was never accepted into the everyday Japanese as much ast The Times and other western media sources like to imply it did.

I would also like to suggest that as many Japanese people have very high reading skills in English that any articles dealing with mental health issues in Japan could usefully provide contact details for hotlines and support services for people who are depressed and feeling suicidal.

Inochi no Denwa (Lifeline Telephone Service):
Japan: 0120-738-556
Tokyo: 3264 4343

AMDA International Medical Information Center:

Tokyo Counseling Services:



Ana said...

Thank you for informing that there is at least counseling in Japan and that there are some integrity left.
This is very good.
However all we receive are bad news about Paxil being prescribed in Japan due to all efforts GSK did.
If you search you will only find many sites claiming the same.
Maybe I should learn Japanese to have a better perspective but knowing how greedy GSK I don't doubt they are at Japanese market.
I was talking to a Japanese dermatologist last month and he told me that he is prescribing Paxil to some of his patients.
He said that some skin diseases are caused by stress and that's why he prescribes Paxil.
I don't understand how can it be because one of the side effects of SSRIs skin problems.
I also don't understand how can it be that a dermatologist is prescribing Paxil without consulting a Psychiatrist.
But that is what he told me. He lives in Toyota city.