Surely pharmaceutical drugs help millions of people survive and thrive, right? The pharmaceutical companies selling the drugs, however, are just that, companies. Like most companies, pharmaceutical companies are out to make economic profit. The illnesses the companies’ drugs treat are importantly shaped by culture. GlaxoSmithKline is a pharmaceutical company out to make a profit, and it saw an economic opportunity when in 1990, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRIs) sales grew by 18 percent and grossed over 13 hundred dollars. This model could be implemented outside of the U.S. context to gain even more profit, right? In doing so, GlaxoSmithKline effectively ignored cultural complexities when marketing their popular SSRI Paxil to the Japanese. To garner support for the antidepressant in Japan, where depression and sadness were understood as more chronic and stigmatized, the pharmaceutical company would have to target the illness and the culture, not the ill. The company essentially manufactured the Western understanding of depression in Japan prior to prescribing their antidepressants. They created depressed people where previously there were few. Mapping Western notions of depression and treatment onto other cultures solely for profit obscures the social meaning of unique experiences.
Read more about this in Ethan Watters’ book “Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the Human Psyche”.