'Cool' TV celeb helps with campus depression

December 20, 2002

A drug company is paying the star of a reality television show to give talks at US universities in a bid to deal with the growing problem of depression among students.

MTV series The Real World, which records the daily lives of seven strangers picked to live together, is popular with US university students.

Drug company Wyeth Pharmaceuticals arranged for Cara Kahn, who suffers from depression and takes the Wyeth-manufactured antidepressant and anxiety medication Effexor, to visit ten university campuses. She will take part in a 90-minute presentation called Depression in College: Real World, Real Life, Real Issues as part of Wyeth's "Go on and live" campaign.

American drug firms sold more than $12 billion (£7.5 billion) worth of antidepressants last year, an increasing quantity of which was to university students.

Some university mental health officials estimate that up to 20 per cent of students take antidepressants at some point in their college lives; they are the top medication prescribed on campuses. A national survey to determine how many students are on psychoactive medications is under way.

The increase in the use of these drugs among students seems inevitable, considering that the number of antidepressant prescriptions to children in the US tripled between 1988 and 1994, according to research conducted at the University of Maryland.

Some universities, including Harvard, have refused to allow the Wyeth tour on campus. A newspaper called the drug company "the biggest drug dealer on campus".

Wyeth has responded that mental health officials also appear on stage with Ms Kahn.

Mark Reed, a psychiatrist and director of counselling at Dartmouth College, said that some students used antidepressants and other similar medications because "we are in a culture where everybody wants a quick fix but they're very busy and they'd rather not talk about problems. They'd rather pop a pill."

He said: "If some cool celebrity is saying, 'I had a problem and I took medications and it helped me', I think it could be helpful to provide a role model like that."

There are no advertisements for Wyeth or its products in evidence at the campus forums, and the company's co-sponsors include the National Mental Health Association and a non-profit organisation called Screening for Mental Health.

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