Battling the Stigma of Mental Disorders
Why I won’t be ashamed of my mental health medications and neither should you.
By Heather Ware, Bowling Green State University
As the proud owner of an anxiety disorder, I find few things more frustrating than the notion that medication for mental disorders is somehow unnecessary.
Despite the fact that 10 percent of Americans take antidepressants, and twice as many take anti-anxiety meds, there is still an overwhelming stigma around taking life-saving medicine. Here’s why that rhetoric is misinformed if you’re feeling generous and delusional if you’re a realist.
One common talking point (or as I like to call them, bullshit points) is that there is no physical test that will show signs of a mental disorder. Unlike a broken bone, you can’t get an X-ray to see exactly what’s wrong with your brain. If you have the logical thinking skills of a first grader, then this may seem like conclusive proof that mental disorders don’t exist, and I wish you all the best on your way to the nearest creationist meeting.
This is a weak point to begin with, but it gets even weaker when you realize it isn’t even true. Studies have found that genes and hormones can play a big role in how likely you are to suffer from a mental disorder, and another study found that the actual shape of your brain changes the longer that your depression goes untreated. These are all compelling pieces of scientific evidence, but they shouldn’t be necessary. It doesn’t matter that there isn’t a mental disorder scan offered at my local hospital, because my word about my own health should be enough.
I don’t need a medical examination to know that “Nickleback” is the worst thing to happen to music in the past century; I don’t need a medical examination to know that Leslie Jones is a national treasure and I certainly don’t need a medical examination to know that “I’d rather die than make a phone call to the dentist” isn’t a thought that healthy people have.
If somebody told me they had a splitting migraine, I wouldn’t demand a CAT scan so they can be sure that they’re really in pain; I’d offer them a painkiller.
But pills are the whole problem, aren’t they? People love to bring up the way that “Big Pharma” has developed into a multibillion dollar business that forces consumers to pay exorbitant markups for a handful of pills. And that’s a fair point; the pharmaceutical industry does jack up the price for mental health medications like they’re Mr. Burns selling warm hugs to orphans.
I’m fortunate enough to have insurance, which means that I pay about $30 a month for medications that can give me nausea, insomnia and a fun little thing called “brain zaps,” which can randomly make me lose consciousness for a moment or, for that instant, forget whatever I’m doing. And I consider myself lucky for risking relatively mild side effects.
The majority of mental health meds are expensive and come with a long list of side effects. Nobody wants to take these medications, but they’re a necessity for 78,694,222 Americans. For any other health issue that was this systemic, there would be no stigma about treatment. Despite rising cancer rates, nobody would ever tell cancer patients that their illness is somehow their fault, because it isn’t. There isn’t a stigma around mental health illnesses because of the medications or the illnesses themselves; there’s a stigma because people don’t respect the testimony of individuals who suffer from these issues.
When a person suffering from schizophrenia can’t trust their closest friends, is unable to sleep and doesn’t eat because of the voices in their head, it’s ridiculous to suggest that they not take a life-saving pill because they can’t “prove” that they have schizophrenia.
After months of therapy and learning more than a dozen coping mechanisms for my anxiety attacks, I still had to deal with gut-wrenching panic in the middle of classes. I was still unable to get more than a handful of hours of sleep whenever I had any form of homework due the next day. Anything that slightly changed my daily routine was a disaster that made me want to swallow a gun.
If I had taken any kind of brain scan, I may have looked completely normal. Aside from irregular hormones caused by stress, my results may have been identical to any healthy person around me. And I was still suffering. Had I listened to people that insist that people with mental disorders are “just your imagination,” I’d probably be dead.
Don’t listen to anyone that tries to tell you that your symptoms of mental illness aren’t real.
You know your mind and your body better than anyone; if something feels wrong, then do everything that you can to make it right.
Therapy and counseling may be enough to get you over your symptoms, but if they aren’t, don’t avoid medication just because you’re afraid of what others will think of you.
It’s perfectly normal to take medication to improve your mental health, and fuck anyone that says otherwise.