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You know what I hate? The stigma surrounding mental heath medication. I mean, when I tell people about my hypothyroidism, no one bats an eyelid when they hear that I’ll be on medication for the rest of my life. When I have a headache, the first thing people say is “have you taken something for it?” and then they act like I’m crazy, if I say I haven’t.
Supermarkets, pharmacists, chemists, health food stores… Even The Pound Shop, for crying out loud! They all have row after row of over the counter medications and supplements that can be taken for countless ailments, often requiring zero input from any medical professionals whatsoever. This is apparently completely acceptable. But if you go to your GP and ask for help with your mental health – which, FYI, is a really scary and really brave thing to do – you get questions like “are you sure you want to take those?” and “are you sure you really need them?”
Imagine swapping mental health with hayfever (just for example). Imagine being asked those same questions when your nose is streaming and your eyes are red and itchy. Or imagine being asked those questions about your choice of contraceptive. How is it anyone’s business to ask questions like that??
I take Levothyroxine, which helps treat an illness that no one can see, every day, and no one questions that. In fact, when I buried my head in the sand and ignored my hypothyroid symptoms after the twins were born, everyone was pushing for me to go and see my GP and get my medication sorted out.
So why is it different with my mental health medication?
My mental health medication really isn’t any different to my thyroid medication. They both treat illnesses that you can’t see. They both help me feel somewhere close to “normal” so that I can get out of bed in the morning. But people seem to think that taking one is a choice and one isn’t. Why is that? Why is there still such a stigma around mental health and taking medication to help manage it?
My depression and anxiety are not choices that I made, anymore than my dodgy thyroid was! Anyone who thinks that someone would choose depression or anxiety has clearly never experienced either. And, sure, sometimes, people do choose not to take mental health medication. They choose to manage their mental health in other ways and that is completely fine. But it’s also fine if they choose to take the meds. It’s noone else’s place to judge that decision and they shouldn’t be made to feel like they have to hide the fact that they take mental health medication or justify why they made that decision in the first place.
Why can’t people – in fact, why can’t society as a whole – treat mental health the same way they treat physical health? Why can’t we be open and say “I’m really struggling with my depression today” the same way we can say “this flu is killing me!”?? Why do people still feel like they can’t call their employer and say “I can’t come in today; I’m having a bad day with my anxiety” the same way they would say “I can’t come in today; I’ve got a sickness bug”? And if they are brave and open enough to do that, why is one “excuse” seen as somehow less valid than the other?
One in four people will experience a mental health problem every year
That’s a really common statistic, right? I’d bet there’s very few people who haven’t heard that one. Mental health problems are not a new thing. They’re not a rare thing. Statistically, everyone will have – at the very least – met someone who struggles with their mental health. So why do we still treat it as if it’s somehow less important than physcial health? And how do we change that?
I came off my anxiety medication (with the help of my GP) before having IVF, because I didn’t want to be on medication while I was pregnant. That was my choice at the time. I’m aware that lots of women do take mental health medication while they’re pregnant and the risks are incredibly low. I would never suggest that a pregnant woman (or anyone else) should stop taking medication that she needs to take. But the thought of taking anxiety medication while pregnant made me anxious (how ironic), so I couldn’t do it. And then, after the twins were born, I spent so much time trying to manage my anxiety on my own – just to avoid going back on medication! But why?? They don’t hand out medals for suffering in silence.
When I realised I was ashamed of my mental health problems and that was the only reason I wasn’t taking medication, I went to see my GP. Now I take my anxiety meds every day, just like my thyroid medication, because why should I be ashamed of something I have no control over? I shouldn’t. And neither should anyone else.
We all need to ask ourselves, why is there so much stigma surrounding mental health and taking medication to help manage it? And how do we change that, so that people no longer feel like they can’t ask for help?