Millions and millions of people in the US take daily medications to manage health conditions. In fact, according to the CDC, almost half of the population takes at least one prescription drug.
If you have high blood pressure you might take medications to prevent strokes. High cholesterol? Most don’t think twice about taking medication to lower the risk of heart disease. For the most part, others don’t judge these folks for taking their daily meds, let alone offer their two cents on how they feel about said drugs. Do people have opinions or emotional reactions about insulin? Not really.
Those with mental illnesses — like major depression or generalized anxiety disorder — often take daily medications to manage their conditions, too. An antidepressant may lower the risk of suicide for a depressed person, and an anti-anxiety medication can stop a debilitating panic attack in its tracks. While these drugs are very effective and even life changing for millions of people, some are quick to judge or criticize those of us who take drugs for mental health conditions.
Why is taking medication for a mental illness viewed so differently from taking a medication for a physical illness? Why is it so difficult for people to let me take my meds in peace? It’s my choice. It’s my body. It’s my brain.
So, yeah…I take psych meds. So what?
The Stigma Behind Medication
Currently, I take 20mg of Paxil, 150mg of Lamictal, and 150mg of Wellbutrin daily. I take 1mg of Klonopin on an as needed basis, which is usually a couple times a week. I don’t have any intention of getting off all these meds any time soon, and yet, it seems like so many people who barely know me are dying to tell me about all the reasons why I should come off of them. Why I should instead try this herb or that herb take shrooms or ayahuasca or acid, or rely solely on meditation and exercise (God, do I wish it was that easy).
Others are quick to tell me how bad antidepressants are for me and what kind of side effects they cause. As if I haven’t experienced these effects myself or haven’t weighed the benefits and risks before fulfilling my prescription. Most of the time, these people have not taken the drugs themselves or even experienced mental illness first hand. They don’t know what it’s like to “need” to be on a medication.
How can someone who’s never suffered from crippling depressive episodes or panic attacks understand how terrifying and paralyzing it is — let alone tell me how I should or shouldn’t treat my condition?
I’ve never received more unsolicited advice or opinions as I have regarding my decision to take meds. The wide-eyed stares and “You know those are really bad for you, right?” comments I get after talking openly about taking my meds are too many to count.
Even though I’m used to this now, it still does make my blood boil a bit. I wonder:
- Would you tell someone with high cholesterol to flush their cholesterol meds down the toilet?
- Would you tell someone with high blood pressure to quit their pills?
- Would you tell a diabetic to just forget about injecting themselves with insulin?
No, no, and no. Why is it so different for mental illnesses!?
Destigmatizing Mental Illness, Medication Included
It seems like we, as a society, really are making strides in terms of accepting and destigmatizing mental illness. However, there is still trouble with the acceptance of psychotropic meds. There are still tons of people who shame those of us who take meds to stay mentally well.
Medication is not an “easy way out”
For some people, therapy and breathing exercises aren’t enough. Some people —like me — need meds to stay at a healthy baseline. A lot of people don’t understand that mental illness sufferers are not taking meds as an “easy way out.” Sometimes, they’re a lifeline. And trust me, things still aren’t easy when you take meds. They are medications, not magic. They don’t make your problems go away, but they can can help you get on your feet, to a not-so-miserable baseline where you can actually get out of bed and go to therapy and work on whatever problems you’re dealing with.
I don’t love the fact that I have to take these meds. I don’t love the risks that come along with them, but I am aware of them, and have made an educated decision to continue to take these medications. It doesn’t have to be a huge deal or something that everyone has to offer opinions on. It’s a normal part of my daily routine, taking my pills. I barely think anything of it anymore. If I need pills to function “better,” so what?
I’m not at a point in my life where I can confidently say, “Yup, I’m doing great. I can manage all this without meds now,” and I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. I am grateful to have made so much progress over the years, progress that I attribute to both meds and other lifestyle changes. And, of course, therapy helps.
I used to hate the fact that I had to take meds. I felt embarrassed and broken. Now, though, after many years, I’ve accepted who I am, my mental illnesses, and the fact that I need a little extra help from medications to be strong enough to fight. I will never again hide the fact that I take medications. I’m not ashamed anymore, there’s no reason to be. And if someone doesn’t like the fact that I take meds, that’s their problem, not mine.
I take meds, so what?