M – Medication

Having a mental illness is about as much fun as having a clown at a party that decides to reveal an axe that was hidden in their coloured wig and then frantically kill everybody with it before they have even had a chance to eat any cake.

In a vicious and unhappy cycle, not really similar to an axe wielding clown, not only is mental illness stigmatised but so is the treatment of it. Especially when it comes to taking medication.

Of course, medication (and by this, I mean the drugs one takes for depression, anxiety, bipolar, OCD, etc.) can’t really help if the doctor prescribing them is inexperienced and not knowledgable of your condition. They should follow your progress and be willing to try a different drug if one isn’t working for you or the side-effects are too disruptive. No one reacts the exact same way to the same medication and as a result it can sometimes be a bit hit and miss: you may have to try out a bunch of them before finding one that works. This is a fiddly, time-consuming and annoying process that can leave your cupboard looking like a pharmacy’s storeroom. And yes, medication for a mental illness often has annoying side-effects, from making sexy-times less fun to excess sweating to really really weird dreams. Plus, medication for a mental illness is never really 100% effective and it’s not a failsafe cure.

So why bother?

Well, medication reduces the symptoms of a mental illness and makes it easier to deal with the monsters in our mind. To give a few examples, it can stabilise the mood and lessen extreme mood swings, reduce the frequency of panic attacks, minimise severe fears or worries, increase or decrease energy levels, help with incessant thoughts, and reduce or eliminate hallucinations, paranoia and delusions. In other words, it can make a mental illness manageable, bearable, liveable. There should be no shame or judgement in taking meds to achieve this. While one cannot see these types of diseases with the naked eye or a blood test, they are as every bit as real and legitimate as cancer or the flu. Plus, and perhaps most importantly, you can sound intelligent, learned, and practise your pronunciation skills as you rattle off the chemical composition of your pills: reboxetine, fluoxetine, quetiapine, olanzapine, lamotrigine, desvenlafaxine, sertraline…

Yet medication is seen by some as unnecessary, counterproductive, wrong. Some claim that it alters you permanently, is addictive, and makes the illness chronic. Others go in the other direction and think that with medication you are perfectly fine, need no further help, and are unjustified in suffering further. There is simply too much stubborn ignorance surrounding medication for mental illness, and as a result it can make recovery even more difficult. It can increase the feelings of doubt and failure. But remember:  anti-medication stories often consist of biased opinions and unfounded beliefs.

If you think, for instance, that “it is wrong to put foreign drugs into your body,” then in order to not be a bigoted hypocrite, you must have never ever received a vaccination, eaten a biscuit or bread that isn’t homemade, taken antibiotics or cough medicine, received an anaesthetic, or ingested anything from a different country. (Get it? Foreign? Ha ha ha…) Anyway, good luck if you or someone you love gets meningococcal, hepatitis, malaria, or all three at once.

If you believe that “it is not healthy to be dependant on medication to live a normal life,” then you better not be friends with any healthy female who takes the pill in order to avoid having a billion babies while studying and trying to find a job. Or friends with a healthy diabetic who takes insulin. Or a healthy person who is treating their asthma or arthritis or insomnia. Or maybe you don’t have many friends?

If you claim that “eating kale, sleeping well, loving yourself and doing yoga is a better alternative than medication,” then congratulations, you have cured depression, cancer, HIV/AIDS and Alzheimer’s! Time to spread the word and save the world! Maybe meditation and natural remedies work for you, that’s great, you’re very lucky. But if it worked so well for everybody, then there wouldn’t be a need for psychiatric hospitals or psychologists anymore. And saying that someone’s suffering can be eased by eating overpriced vegetables is just plain rude.

If you wonder how “so many people are on antidepressants yet so many people still commit suicide,” remember that while medication can be extremely beneficial to many, it is only one part of a challenging and time-consuming recovery. External factors such as trauma, living conditions, the amount of support or bullying, the type of therapy, the quality of the doctors, and (unfortunately) the financial situation all play an important role in treating (or worsening) mental illnesses.

In summary, do not think any less of yourself if you are taking medication for a mental illness… or any less of others who do. And if you are considering taking medication but have some trepidation about it, remember it won’t be as bad as being killed by an axe-wielding clown.

Take care of yourself and feel free to share. :o)