Tell someone you’re on medication for mental health problems and their response will fall into three categories.
They’ll be supportive, they’ll be strongly against it, or they’ll ask you whether they can get high off it (FYI it’s really rare to get prescribed Valium or Xanax in the U.K., but nice try you little fiends. Most people get put on SSRIs which aren’t as fun and don’t get songs written about them by rappers with face tatts).
I’ve experienced all 3 of these reactions, because in February I went on medication for anxiety and depression. But it was a difficult choice for me. I knew about the side effects, I was scared, and in some ways I felt like a failure that I wasn’t able to control my emotions using natural means. I think that part of the reason I felt this way is the stigma we attach to using medication for mental health issues.
We are taught that the best thing to do when treating a psychological illness is to try and cope with it ourselves. After that, CBT, counselling and lifestyle changes are the next route. For some people, that does work and they’re able to resume living a healthy, happy life. Which is sweet!
But it doesn’t always work like that. Certain people experience mental illnesses because their brain naturally isn’t producing enough serotonin – the feel good chemical that’s released during sex, after exercise, while eating chocolate, etc. Luckily, scientists have invented medication to boost these serotonin levels. Other people have mental illnesses where they suffer from hallucinations or an imbalance of cortisol, which may require anti-psychotic meds to counteract the symptoms.
It seems like a simple enough process, but medication is so demonised that many people look down on this option. From “why don’t you just try talking about it” to “that’s not good, you should try yoga”, negative reactions are thrown at people who use medication. But for thousands of people including myself, medication is a life-changing solution to a life-altering illness.
The negative reactions and stigma attached to talking about this is a serious issue, particularly in the U.K. where we’re afraid to talk about our feelings and plagued with toxic masculinity. We’ve come a long way in the last decade in terms of talking about mental health, but we’ve still got a long way to go.
If your friend tells you they’re taking medication, know that for them it wasn’t an easy decision. They’re taking the necessary steps to getting better, so try to be compassionate and understanding. After all, you both want them to get back to their normal self. It’s Mental Health Awareness Week, so let’s start having some conversations about mental health, wellbeing, and where our place is in this fucked up planet we call home.