Sage's Postpartum Depression Awareness Campaign "Infantilizes" Women Say Critics | Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News |

Sage Therapeutics, a biotech developing an experimental treatment for postpartum depression, this week trumpeted strong results from a clinical trial, which cheered investors and pushed up its stock price. But outside the lab, the company’s aggressive efforts to raise awareness of postpartum depression have proved divisive.


The campaign’s message: “When it comes to postpartum depression, silence sucks.” It features close-up photos of distressed, tearful women who can’t speak — because they have pacifiers stuck in their mouths.


The images have been plastered on bus stops, buses, conference booths, and on a dedicated website. The ads don’t specifically mention Sage’s drug, which still needs further testing before the company can bring it to the Food and Drug Administration for possible approval. Instead, they urge women to talk “openly and honestly” about postpartum depression. An estimated 600,000 women in the U.S. alone experience symptoms, which range from insomnia and irritability to difficulty bonding with their baby.


“I like it. Informative and somewhat reassuring,” said Meg Arthur, a 34-year-old mother of three who’s a member of a Facebook support group for postpartum depression. But critics say the choice to picture women sucking on pacifiers “infantilizes” mothers and their illness.


“Even if they had just used the pacifier alone, that would have been better than having women experiencing rage, pain, and sadness with baby pacifiers in their mouths,” said Mara Acel-Green, a psychotherapist in Watertown, Mass. who specializes in counseling women with postpartum depression.


Green and other clinicians also said they see the campaign as a missed opportunity to prod doctors to be more proactive in asking women about their symptoms.


“‘Silence Sucks’ places the onus on women [to speak up],” she said. “I think providers are silent. It’s not the women. Nobody is asking them.”


Dr. Steve Kane, the chief medical officer at Sage, said he hoped the campaign would encourage conversation. “During an episode of postpartum depression, feelings of guilt, shame or fear can be significant barriers that prevent women from speaking up about their symptoms,” he said.


Dr. Anna Glezer, a California psychiatrist who treats patients with postpartum depression, said such campaigns are helpful — whatever viewers may think about the pacifiers — in raising awareness.