Pill Shaming : Pill shaming occurs when someone expresses negative opinions or disdain when you tell them you’re using medication to treat a mental health issue. They assume — wrongly — that taking medication signifies weakness of character or an inability to work through tough times.
Thanks to the hard work and openness of many, many influencers, celebrities and regular people talking about their struggles with depression, anxiety, and other conditions, openness about mental illness has become more acceptable, not completely accepted, but more acceptable. But even as people find understanding and support for their illness, they are also subject to a host of unhelpful and stigmatising attitudes about medication, ranging from the implication that they’re just not trying hard enough, or that their just being attention seeking or selfish, to the recommendation that all they need is a certain diet, or exercise, or meditation in order to make them feel more positive. While some of these things may help in some way, and may help some people more than others, there are also many people who take medicine daily in order to not only feel better, but to live. I am one of those people. I’m not saying that to sound dramatic, my medication has and does genuinely save my life. Without it, I may find myself in danger of becoming a high risk patient again. That’s just the way it is. Yes it scares me a little, but it doesn’t incapacitate me and taking one pill every morning isn’t that much of an inconvenience.
And I’m not alone in taking medication. Many of my friends, family, co-workers and students take medication daily for their mental health. And more and more people are being prescribed some form of mental health medication for their unique condition. But hardly anyone talks about it comfortably. It’s only ever mentioned as some secret shame, or in some cases unfortunately as an insult or hot gossip to talk down about someone… “they’re so weird. I guess someone forgot to take their meds today!”
The growing usage of these types of medication has led to widely shared and incorrect attitudes. While some people see the use of psychiatric medication as a weakness or a failing on the part of the patient, others downplay the struggle of overcoming mental illness because ‘there’s a pill for that”. It’s important to dispel misconceptions about mental illness and the best way to treat it. Yes, medication can help, but only when prescribed and taken in the correct manner.
This exhausted idea that medication is an easy out or a superficial quick-fix makes me, and others, want to be quiet keep it a secret. We feel like we cant talk about it. We shouldn’t feel that way. Taking meds has been helped me and countless others live lives they couldn’t have otherwise, if any at all.
It’s also important to highlight that there are many cases where you might not need to be taking quite as many meds as you’ve initially been made to believe. Pharmaceutical companies can temptingly beckon you with the impulse to medicate problems that would be better served by something else, which is also very harmful. But this in itself is a catch 22 as I often find myself reluctant to take any additional medicine unless I absolutely have to, including taking painkillers or cold medicine! What is this underlying fear or medicine? What makes me think I’m lesser for medicating something that is actually fairly simple to relieve with modern medicine?
Starting to take pills can feel like an acknowledgement that ‘I can’t handle this on my own. However this shame doesn’t effect those with ‘physical’ illness in the same way. If you have diabetes, you don’t feel shame for taking insulin. Those with Asthma you don’t feel shame using your inhaler. But many of those with mental illnesses would rather trying to go it without treatment because people have this idea that, ‘If I can’t handle it, I’m weak. Something’s wrong with me. Needing medicine says something bad about me.’ Taking medication is a continual reminder that one has ‘something wrong’ with them, and that it needs to be treated. People can often struggle with negative beliefs about themselves, thinking they are ‘less than’ if they have a mental illness or if they need medication. These feelings feed shame. It perpetuates behaviours and emotions that leave someone feeling alone and isolated.
I want to take time to make something very clear. Taking medication for a mental health condition doesn’t make you weak, it doesn’t make you crazy, and it doesn’t make you lazy. Taking medication for a mental illness is as necessary as an anaemic patient taking iron pills. Your medicine helps re-balance your brain’s chemistry. And often its not as simple as just taking what you’re given; in my case its taken years of trying and observing and changing and adjusting the type and dosage of my medicine to find what works best for me and what makes me feel the most like myself. And, again like those with more ‘physical’ illnesses, we take our medicine alongside the other activities that can promote a healthier, happier lifestyle. I take my meds, and I meditate. I take my meds, and I try to eat healthy. I take my meds, AND I exercise. I take my meds, and I live.
I used to want to hide all elements of my mental health. I felt I was weak, or weird, because I had to start every day taking medication every morning in order to feel able to do the rest of the day. When I was at my lowest point, my medicine seemed like a burden. But now, I want to talk about the fact I take medicine. I want to swap meds stories and discuss side effects. I want to encourage the conversation surrounding each persons journey to living the best life they can! Because that’s what my medicine does. It helps me to live my best life! And maybe one day I might not need to take them anymore, or maybe I’ll take them for the rest of my life. But I will no longer feel any shame about them. I hope you wont either, and I hope you’ll start to see mental health medication as something more ordinary.
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