Objective: The pharmaceutical industry exercises pervasive influence in the mental health field. The internet has become a primary source of mental health information for the public and practitioners. This study therefore compared mental health websites funded and not funded by drug companies.
Method: A systematic literature review of studies examining the role of drug companies in the funding of mental health websites was conducted, followed by a meta-analysis of studies comparing drug company-funded (DCF) sites with sites not funded by the industry.
Results: Mental health websites, in general, overemphasize biogenetic causal explanations and medication. Many mental health websites (42%) are either drug company owned (6%) or receive funding from drug companies (36%). A meta-analysis found that DCF sites are significantly more biased toward biogenetic causes (P < 0.01) and toward medication (P < 0.0001) than sites that are financially independent of the industry.
Conclusion: Practitioners are encouraged to inform patients about the bias inherent in industry-sponsored websites and to recommend, instead, more balanced websites that present a range of evidence-based information about causes and treatments.
Keywords: drug industry; internet; mental health; psychiatry.
© 2013 John Wiley & Sons A/S. Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.