Study of Mental Health Websites and Bias

A meta-analysis of studies of mental health websites and their biases has produced some interesting findings. Here’s a good article about it. And the abstract:

A literature review and meta-analysis of drug company–funded mental health websites

Read J, Cain A. A literature review and meta-analysis of drug company–funded mental health websites.

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.

One of the more interesting findings was how little the topic has been studied at all, despite the obvious very significant role played by pharmaceutical companies and their funding in public and professional education about mental health:

The primary limitation of our meta-analysis is the
disappointingly small number of studies available
for analysis. It is unfortunate that the influencing
of public opinion by the pharmaceutical industry
via its funding of NGOs’ and other organizations’
websites has not received more scrutiny from
researchers. It is hoped that the current meta-analysis
will encourage more researchers to investigate
websites for many other mental health problems
beyond the six already investigated, using similar
or other methodologies.