Hey FFFN Family!
This blog centres around the topic of mental health treatments, and more specifically, mental health medications. You may remember in my first blog, I discussed my own experiences with medications used to manage my Type 1 Bipolar Affective Disorder. I didn’t delve into things deeply (and believe me, there are some stories to tell there!), but throughout this entry, I will try and address some of the stigma around pharmacological treatments associated with mental illness.
First off, some facts about mental health medications. There are six types that are used to manage or control the symptoms of mental illness – antidepressants, antipsychotics, mood stabilisers, depressants, anxiolytics and stimulants. Most of these categories are pretty self-explanatory and clearly indicate what they are used for. Mental health medications have been developed, tested and approved for use to reduce or minimise symptoms of a multitude of mental health conditions; the list is exhaustive. They are not, however, curative. And this is a very important fact to remember and one I will refer back to further on in this blog.
Unfortunately, as with most things associated with mental illness, society has placed a stigma on mental health medications and their use and this has been ongoing for decades. Although in recent years, the use of mental health medications have been more widely accepted, there is still an underlying misconception that taking mental health medication is just a crutch for people who are too weak to manage their problems and that they’re just not trying hard enough to feel good and get better.
Well, to that I call bullshit.
I distinctly remember a post on Facebook a few years back that made its way onto my feed, not long after my own Bipolar diagnosis. It was of two images split down the middle. The upper part was a silhouette of a person with their arms outstretched in a beautiful green field with bright sunshine streaming down on them, appearing serene and at one with nature. The bottom half was a picture of a pill; Prozac if memory serves. The caption in the top half of the post read “This is an antidepressant”. The caption in the bottom half read “This is shit”. Well fuck me, did I take the greatest offence on so many levels!!
The first thing that entered my mind when I saw this post was “HOW FUCKING IGNORANT!” which was followed closely by the thought that whoever had come up with this inane image had clearly never experienced any significant mental health issues in their insular, uneducated life.
Even writing this blog now, I’m still fucking pissed off at the message portrayed (this is pretty clear given I’ve used the word fuck three times in the last three sentences!).
Whilst there’s no denying that in many instances, medication is misused and over-prescribed (and that’s ALL medication, not just those to treat mental illness), this does not at all diminish the necessity and efficacy for many millions of humans worldwide. Mental health medications, when prescribed appropriately and used responsibly, can help to stabilise sufferers, diminish severe, unpredictable and unmanageable symptoms and improve quality of life. So why wouldn’t someone utilise this option if it were deemed appropriate and beneficial?
Fear of judgement is the answer to this question. For so many people, the thought of taking medication to treat depression and anxiety, or more specific and diagnosed mental health conditions, means that they are taking a “quick fix” or “easy” option. Perhaps they are fearful of being branded a nutcase or crazy person who can’t get their shit together so needs to pop a happy pill every day to cope. What an unfair burden this would be to someone who is experiencing mental illness and is already vulnerable and needing support.
Let me ask those people who judge others for “popping a happy pill every morning”, if you were suffering with a migraine or tonsillitis or a raging fever causing you to feel like total crap and preventing you from living life to the fullest even just for a few days, would you choose to just ride it out? If you were diagnosed with a chronic condition such as diabetes and required daily insulin, would you simply opt for the natural approach of sitting outside in the sunshine in a lovely, green forest in the hopes that your pancreas would kick into gear and you’d stop having life threatening hypos? I’m tipping the answer is a hard no.
So why should someone suffering awful symptoms from a neurological chemical imbalance that is causing the brain to misfire not be treated? Kinda makes you think more analytically, doesn’t it!
Now to take a little deviation from my tirade about those who aren’t as educated and aware, I want to change the focus and consider someone who has sought medical support and is responsibly taking daily mental health medication. This someone has gotten through the first difficult few months of nasty side effects while the brain and body are acclimatising and have now found that with their daily medication regime, they are feeling stable, healthy and well. Once at this point, which may have taken quite a prolonged period of time given there’s no cookie-cutter, one size fits all option and everyone responds differently to various meds, what does this someone do now? For a while they carry on with the status quo, taking their tablets, living their life and trucking along nicely.
Then, the thought creeps in. I’m feeling fine, I’m stable, I’m not sick anymore, I don’t need to be taking medication anymore.
This is a tricky issue when it comes to mental health medication. Unlike when you do have tonsillitis or another acute illness that requires temporary pharmacological treatment and once recovered there’s no need to continue taking it, many mental health conditions require ongoing medication support.
It is difficult to reconcile needing to take a tablet once or twice (or more) per day if you are not sick. I know this all too well. It is challenging experiencing side effects from mental health medications that aren’t especially desirable, but absolutely pale in comparison to the horrendous symptoms experienced during a mental health crisis. What I need to remind myself each time I feel upset or annoyed at having to take medication when I’m not sick is – I’M NOT SICK BECAUSE I’M TAKING THE MEDICATION. Whilst it isn’t curative and I will have Bipolar Affective Disorder for the rest of my life, I take daily medication to ensure that the symptoms of this shithouse condition are kept at bay and don’t plague my life and turn it upside down.
So perhaps next time someone considers judging another for taking mental health medication, they need to reframe their thoughts. Taking medication isn’t the easy option, it’s not a quick fix and it certainly doesn’t come without a great deal of consideration and education. We are very fortunate to be living in a time where medical research is vast and the efficacy of so many mental health medications are extensive. There are different options and approaches depending on someone’s circumstances and they are accessible.
Now that I feel content that I have opened up a conversation, I hope this blog has allowed for two things. I hope that those who are suffering with their mental health right now who haven’t considered speaking with their doctor about the potential benefits of medication because they are scared of being judged feel more empowered after reading this blog. And I hope that those who, up until now, have believed that mental health medication is nothing other than an easy option for unhappy people, are a bit more enlightened and better educated around the benefits and sometimes life saving options available for humans who are suffering with their mental health.
Remember, whilst it’s awesome being Far From Fkn Normal, it’s not awesome to suffer in silence. Seek support and treatment when you need it and push through the fear that may be holding you back.
Catch you in the next blog!
PLEASE NOTE – I have not discussed non-pharmacological treatments for mental illness in this blog and have focused only on mental health medication. Counselling, psychological support and other holistic treatments have a great deal of proven efficacy and are a brilliant option either solely or adjunct to mental health medications. All treatments for mental health conditions are entirely subjective and what may work for one person may not be as effective or appropriate for another.