October 26

"Schizophrenia Digest" Canadian magazine

“Schizophrenia Digest” Canadian magazine

Tue, 3 Jun 2003

Behold the new marketing promo in the guise of “Inspiration and information”….”Schizophrenia Digest” is touted as a magazine directed at schizophrenia patients and families. The publisher, William J. MacPhee, who claims he is taking an antipsychotic, says, “My personal philosophy is that medication is the foundation for recovery.”

Why am I skeptical?

The Washington Post reports that the magazine’s primary financial backers: pharmaceutical companies including Lilly, Pfizer, Novartis and AstraZeneca. Its promoters also receive financial backing from drug manufacturers.

This story goes hand in glove with this week’s New York Magazine article about the pill popping scene in New York.


Whose Voice?

By Sandra G. Boodman

A new quarterly magazine replete with direct-to-consumer ads for psychiatric drugs is set to debut this week, aimed at the estimated 2.5 million Americans who suffer from schizophrenia, one of the most serious and disabling mental illnesses.

The publisher of the 44-page magazine called Schizophrenia Digest is William J. MacPhee, a Canadian businessman who was diagnosed with the disabling thought and mood disorder 16 years ago, when he was 24. MacPhee, who is married and the father of an infant, has recovered from his illness; he said he continues to take an antipsychotic drug to control some symptoms of schizophrenia, which include hallucinations, delusions and severe depression.

The magazine’s editor does not have schizophrenia, nor do many of its contributing writers, MacPhee said. The magazine’s motto, “Inspiration and Information,” reflects its emphasis on ways to cope with the disorder, including prayer and spirituality and the importance of taking prescribed medication. Other articles include one on overcoming the stigma of mental illness and reports on new developments in schizophrenia research.

“My personal philosophy is that medication is the foundation for recovery,” MacPhee said.

It is a philosophy shared by the magazine’s primary financial backers: pharmaceutical companies including Lilly, Pfizer, Novartis and AstraZeneca, which are providing about 60 percent of the funding for the magazine, MacPhee said.

“There wouldn’t be a magazine if it weren’t for the pharmaceutical companies,” said MacPhee. “We still have free editorial rein.”

The American edition, scheduled to be unveiled tomorrow at the annual conference in Washington of the National Mental Health Association (NMHA), will have an initial printing of 50,000 copies. Most of these will be mailed to 5,700 psychiatrists around the country or distributed through either the NMHA or the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, an Arlington-based group for families of people with psychiatric disorders.

“I think it’s a first for this specific audience,” said Lee Ann Browning-McNee, a vice president of the NMHA, which is headquartered in Alexandria. There is a newspaper called “NYC Voices,” written by and for people with various mental illnesses, that circulates in New York, and “ADDitude,”a national magazine for people with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Not all mental health advocates regard Schizophrenia Digest as an advance citing its emphasis on psychiatric drugs.

“It’s a question of what the underlying philosophy is, ” said Daniel Fisher, a Massachusetts psychiatrist and a member of the White House Commission on Mental Health. Fisher, a mental health advocate who was hospitalized for schizophrenia 30 years ago, has fully recovered and says he has not taken psychiatric medication for years.

“There’s one philosophy that says that some people can recover completely and don’t need lifelong medication, and there’s the predominant view that you can function but you’re always mentally ill and you’re always going to need medication,” Fisher said. “That’s certainly the view that drug companies want to promote.”

MacPhee said that he would run an article critical of medication “if it was an independent study” but probably not if it merely reflects the view of a person or organization.

“I can only speak for myself and for thousands of letters of testimony from people I’ve gotten” that medication was critical to their stabilization and in some cases their eventual recovery, he said.

MacPhee said he got the idea for the magazine in the early 1990s after he read a book about launching a small business. At the time, he was recovering from a stay at a mental hospital in his native Ontario, one of six hospitalizations since 1987.

“I was always goal-oriented and I had a good quality of life before I got sick, and I wanted that back,” recalled MacPhee, who had worked as a commercial diver in the South China Sea and as a press operator in a printing plant in Canada before his illness struck at a relatively late age. Many people with schizophrenia are diagnosed in late adolescence, before they have completed college, worked or separated from their parents.

Encouraged by a mentor at a volunteer literacy group he was attending, MacPhee said it took him more than 18 months to scrape up enough cash to publish his first issue.

“You can just imagine going to a bank and asking for a loan to start a magazine on schizophrenia,” he said. “A lot of people didn’t believe in the idea at all.”

Luckily for MacPhee, his father was not among them.

Armed with a $60,000 loan from his father, MacPhee founded Magpie Publishing in 1994 and published the first issue of Schizophrenia Digest, which consisted of eight pages. Aimed at a Canadian audience, the magazine today has about 3,000 subscribers in Canada and a few hundred in the United States who pay $19.95 annually for four issues. The Canadian edition is underwritten by drug companies and receives a small grant from the Canadian government.

“In Canada we don’t have direct-to-consumer advertising like in the United States,” said MacPhee. Ads for drugs pitched at schizophrenia patients and their families represent the major difference between the U.S. and Canadian versions of the magazine, he said, as will some of the articles about policy or funding or success stories with explicitly Canadian or American themes.

MacPhee hopes that one of the things he has learned in his 16 year battle with schizophrenia resonates with American readers. “The fact that I have meaningful work to do is a great motivator in my life,” he said.•

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