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.
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.
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.
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.