It’s ok to take medication for mental illness

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LogoJPGI’m not sure when it happened but it seems that not only do we have to deal with the crushing stigma that no one is supposed to have mental health issues but we’re now seemingly not allowed to take medication for it.

The fact that we can’t agree on the origin of mental health issue is our biggest problem. Is it nature or nurture? Is something physically wrong with our brains or are we conditioned into experiencing problems? I studied psychology through a six week University course last year and I’m still no better off in its understanding. I sit on the line of ‘it starts physically and becomes nurtured along the way’.

Unfortunately because there are two very different schools of thought, no one can decide on the treatment. If it’s purely down to nurture, we should all be in therapy but if it’s nature then we all need medication. Our brains and life in general, are sadly never that black and white.

I battle two chronic illnesses on a daily basis. My recent life-changing diagnosis of autoimmune hepatitis and depression/anxiety. Society allows me to take medication for the former but not the latter.

Every day my life consists of at least three pills, sometimes iron supplements and sometimes steroids if my liver is failing again. No-one questions it. My liver is broken and therefore I need daily medication to maintain it to a working level. It’s accepted. ‘Don’t forget to take your pills’, mum would say as I began to get used to the new change in my life.
We rarely encourage pill taking when it comes to antidepressants or antipsychotics however. ‘You shouldn’t be taking those’, we say. ‘Have you tried lemon water and yoga lately?’ we offer instead.

What the fuck?
  Seriously, what the actual fuck are we doing to ourselves?

We would rather doom ourselves to a life full of self-loathing, voices in our heads and suicidal tendencies than pop a pill or two every day to keep ourselves sane all because ‘society’ (the ones all secretly popping pills in the first place) deem it something shameful. That asking for help in the shape of a capsule or little round tablet to function a little better each day is the most embarrassing and shameful thing in the world!

I don’t take medication for my depression out of choice. From the ages of 18-24 I tried every drug you could think of from Citalopram to Prozac and every medication on every dosage in between. Some worked and some didn’t. Some would even work for months but eventually the effects would plateau and I would be back to square one. Even Valium, on a ‘dose that would knock out my doctor’ according to him, did nothing but give me a headache. And so, after years of trying and learning what depression meant in my life a little better, I gave up trying.

I am jealous of those people medication work for. If there were a pill I could take every morning or evening that would lessen the pain of daily life, like a Paracetamol to a headache, I would take it.

We tell ourselves that we don’t want to ‘rely on pills’ but we’re not relying on them at all – we NEED them. There is a huge difference. ‘Rely’ implies that we can get by without them but choose not to; ‘need’ means we have no choice.
We tell ourselves that better eating and more yoga will rid us of depression but they won’t. They’re aides to help you but you can’t depend on them just because you refuse to take your medication due to guilt and shame.

Taking medication for your mental health issues doesn’t make you crazy. Or a bad parent. Or a crappy friend. Or weak. Taking medication means you realise you need a little help and everyone needs a little help in their lives at some point or another.

Again, I fear that the deep-rooted problem we have regarding medication is that the ‘experts’ can’t agree on a clear reason why we suffer with mental health issues and therefore we can’t agree on the best treatment.  If it was all down to a chemical imbalance in our brains, would we feel so guilty for taking medication attempting to correct it?   After all, diabetics take insulin to correct their glucose levels.   Some anxious flyers take a sedative before a flight.  So why should you be any different?

Medication is a highly personal decision and whatever you choose is ultimately your decision but just stop feeling guilty if medication is something you decide to explore.  And can everyone else stop making those who choose medication feel like shit for doing so?

Taking a pill each morning or night doesn’t mean you can’t love or play with your children any less.  If anything, maybe your medication finally gives you the energy to shower them with the affection and play time you’ve been wanting to give.  Nor does taking medication mean you’re a shitty friend, it means you have the strength to explore options that could help you function a little better. I have a friend that can never meet me for breakfast any earlier than 10am due to her meds making her sleep so much.  I love her regardless and always look forward to our catch ups.

And let’s not forget that anyone from any walk of life can be on medication.  Just because a man is a highly successful lawyer, it doesn’t mean he isn’t having panic attacks in the bathroom before court.  Or a world-famous life coach doesn’t need meds to help balance her out a little more.  Mental health issues can affect anyone and everyone; that’s the point.  Just because you can’t see it, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.  What’s the saying?  The happiest people can sometimes be the saddest?  Well, maybe they’re the happiest because the medication works and helps them function a little better in the world?!

I’m not saying we should all be on medication.  Far from it.  As I said, it’s an intensely personal decision.  I just don’t understand the guilt and shame we attach to it.

It’s ok to take medication for mental illness.  It really is.

3 Comments
  • Jen

    Reply

    Well done! Brilliant! Everyone should read this. And thank-you

  • Oceana

    Reply

    Thank you! There just isn’t enough talk about issues like this. I agree with what you’re saying: there’s NOTHING wrong with taking medication. I have to use my asthma puffer everyday sometimes, but nobody tells me to do yoga instead!
    Why do we insist that everything can be fixed naturally?
    I’m not saying that there aren’t benefits to a natural lifestyle, lots of exercise etc. But I’m pretty sure that if we’re happy to accept depression is a medical diagnosis (which it clearly is) there’s no reason to stigmatise taking medication.
    Personally, I’ve never had an individual experience with depression. But I’ve lived with two girls who had been diagnosed with depression, and were taking medication as a result of that. One was fine with her meds, proud that she was able to make the most of her life. The other felt pressure from the outside to stop taking the pills, even though they were clearly making her feel a lot better.
    It makes no sense to me, so I salute you Toni. If it works for you, keep on keeping on.

    O.
    Oceana recently posted…Quiet Dry Season DaysMy Profile

    • Toni

      Oceana – yes, physical illness is accepted but the second it’s mental, apparently yoga and lemon water fix it all! As you say, there are benefits to them of course but they shouldn’t be used as a replacement if you need medication in the first place. So frustrating. Very interesting that you have two friends and both react differently to medication; just goes to show that everyone is different 🙂

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