How To Sell Lexapro on Instagram
PLUS: Corporadelics, Critical ADHD Sluggies, and the importance of soil
Sluggish is a reader-supported publication now! Welcome to the first round-up for paid subscribers — see my announcement about going (partially) paid here if you missed it, and consider signing up if you love what I do.
Please Instagram Stop Trying to Sell Me Mail-Order Antidepressants
This week in ads I simply cannot scroll past, but not for the usual reasons:
While it’s entirely possible that Meta can hear me crying on the floor sometimes, I like to think I keep getting these because I write about mental health, and also because I keep clicking them. The critic in my brain is like, please, we need to see it, we must question it! Curiosity had me actually signing up for this one with a burner email, just to see what the intake process is like, and oh boy, is it questionable.
Hims & Hers started out peddling hair growth pills, Viagra, and birth control — COO Melissa Baird has said that their entire business model was based around “common conditions that cause social anxiety and can be embarrassing to talk about with someone”. Marketing hinged on social shame, how novel!
Last July, they expanded into telepsychiatry — specifically, antidepressants. The CEO Andrew Dudum told Bloomberg Businessweek that slick branding on Instagram is a crucial piece of their strategy:
“When you use it, endorphins are rushing through your body,” Dudum says of the photo-sharing site. “That currently doesn’t happen in the health system, which is a big problem. It’s an ugly experience.”
Aesthetics are deceiving. They can lull you into a false sense of security: this page looks nice, this company must be professional, which means I can trust them. Colors, fonts, and designs evoke feelings in us, and I am always struck by how soft and soothing these companies make their marketing materials.
The opening pitch on the Hers page for anxiety and depression says “FDA-approved medication delivered directly” and “messaging-only consults (no video needed)”. I was a bit incredulous that this could be true, so I clicked “Get Started” to see.
Hims & Hers is not a “covered entity” under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996…(collectively, “HIPAA”)…It is important to note that HIPAA does not necessarily apply to an entity or person simply because there is health information involved, and HIPAA may not apply to your transactions or communications with Hims & Hers…
So, technically, they can sell data about my prescriptions or messages with providers to whoever they want? This is sadly not surprising — it’s frighteningly common for mental health apps — but it is weird, considering this interview where the COO said “We follow HIPAA guidelines and employ strict access controls.” 🤔
The next step in my contact-less diagnostic process was a “Mental Health Questionnaire”:
Sounds good, except, one very important piece of information is missing. Here’s James Davies explaining the origin of these questionnaires in his book Sedated:
…what the tens of millions of Brits who have filled in PHQ-9 and GAD-7 almost certainly did not know is that both documents were developed by, their copyright owned by and their distribution throughout NHS paid for by Pfizer Pharmaceuticals - which, incidentally, makes two of the most prescribed anti-anxiety and antidepressant drugs in the UK: Effexor (venlafaxine) and Zoloft (sertraline).