Medication Shaming and the Damage Done
The very first time I was placed on medication, I felt not only a personal defeat but also a failure to my family, so much so I never told them I was taking medication. I just put on a “happy face” and went through all the trials and tribulations of finding the right medication alone. Mind you, this process itself can take months even years before you get passed the side effects and start to truly feel the effects of the medication, and that’s if you haven’t already stopped talking because “its not working quick enough”. When I studied psych, that was one of the biggest problems with patients — people not giving the medication time to work and giving up because they either felt nothing or had too many side effects. I have always been an advocate of a double approach to mental health, one that involves both therapy and medication. Of course not in all situations, medication is necessary and/or appropriate or necessary/appropriate forever, but for some, “the lifers” I call them, like me, we’ll be on medication indefinitely.
For some people in society the idea of medication for mental illness is still seen as “not good for you”, “not necessary” or “can’t be good for your health”. This of course is a part of a wider problem, the denial and stigmatisation of mental illness. The idea that mental health is some made up little illness weak lazy people use as an excuse for their behaviour when they should just go for a walk, get over it, do some yoga, eat healthy etc. etc. I’ve been called a narcissist, self indulgent, lazy, a cry baby, a downer and my mental health mocked and used against me or more cruelly as a joke, as I’m sure many of you have too.
Depression is NOT laziness. Depression is a kind of suffering where you barely have the energy to wake up, to think, to be, to live. A simple little jog around the block is not going to be of any consolation to most suffering severe depression and anxiety. When you can barely bring yourself to get out of bed, eat or wash your hair you’re not exactly lining up at the local yoga place ready to get into downward dog pose. Your brain works slower when you’re not well and you’d give anything to just be “normal” and okay and not like this. But never let someone tell you what you are experiencing is laziness.
The countless amount of times people have told me “it’ll be okay”, “it’ll work out”, “it’s just life”, “you just need to get over it”, all meaningless statements people say when they really don’t know what to say when someone is opening up to them about their illness. Let me tell you the best thing you can do is LISTEN, just LISTEN. We’ve all lost friends because we are just too much of “a downer” to be around. It hurts, but it really is their loss. To feel absolutely everything to the point where you almost feel nothing at all is not something everyone can handle. People tend to get bored of dealing with your “shit” pretty quick.
Medication however became my saving grace. Once we got it right, we got it really right and I have very few episodes regularly. My moods feel stable and I feel like I can function on a level plane without fear of going to high or low or reacting inappropriately to situations or behaviours. But over the years what became increasingly clear was peoples’ reluctance and resistance to believe medication a) works and b) is necessary. I’ve had friends who’ve asked for help in the past and have been very resistant to the idea of medication like its some grand step to accepting you’re crazy. Like once you hand over that prescription society labels you CRAZY for life. Medication is intended as a buffer to help you deal with your issues through therapy or counselling and give you that breathing space and help you from feeling like you’re drowning. There is no shame in needing medical help or needing something to make life easier for you. I’ve been asked personally so many times that aren’t I embarrassed that I will likely be on medication my whole life. And no, I’m not embarrassed but clearly society is still embarrassed of its mentally ill. Underneath it all, that message remains clear and it is damaging to those who suffer with mental illness and it is damaging to society as a whole. Medication for me is a preventative, its just like me taking my asthma inhaler, just like taking my blood pressure pills. Its there to ensure I stay well and a safety net to prevent possible episodes.
I clearly remember discussing with my doctor how I felt like I was being shamed by a lot of friends and family for taking medication every day. My doctor got incredibly huffy and said tell them to “EFF OFF” (yes, my doctor is a legend) and he explained just like I did earlier that medication is a preventative measure for me just like my other medications because yes, I suffer an ILLNESS. My mother who admittedly I have been estranged from for over 15 years once told be that Mental Illness didn’t exist, that it was just a made up thing. What’s sad about this statement is that it’s not that uncommon. Society still has a very hard time accepting mental health is as important as ALL HEALTH and that it is a very real and debilitating illness. It’s still seen as a defect, some failure or anomaly. It’s not just everyday people, its friends, family, schools, chemists, workplaces, it’s everyone. I’ve picked up a prescription from a chemist before for a sedative/anti-anxiety drug and have been given the worst look on earth like I’m a no good junkie. Nobody should be shamed for what they are legally prescribed and rightfully need medically regardless of their ignorance and stigma of what a person with mental illness is or isn’t.
Its important people are mindful of the words they use to describe mental illness and symptoms because more and more these feed into the stigma and make people who already feel isolated and singled out in society even more so.
Understanding, empathy and support are what the mental health community needs now more than ever. With rising suicide rates and rising rates of mental illness globally it can’t be denied any more that mental health is important and largely needs to be addressed more than it ever has been. Access to mental health services in most countries is abysmal, incredibly expensive and limited. Every time another celebrity dies of suicide everyone posts about why didn’t they ask for help or reach out. As someone whose been there, they reach out, they always reach out, maybe not overtly but usually days, weeks or over years they reach out but the people around them don’t listen, don’t want to know about it or palm it off. So when you say you care, next time check in on your friends, offer a hug, LISTEN. Actually, LISTEN.
If we keep treating mental illness like its not important and it’s just something that will work itself out, we do society, we do ourselves and those closest to us a great disservice.