Mental Illness Medication – Still a Stigma?

The acceptance of mental health issues is something that’s come along in leaps and bounds over the last five years. Having dealt with generalised anxiety disorder since I was around seven years old, it’s something that I’ve experienced personally, not just witnessing the change. But with mental illness being a topic that’s so close to home, there’s other things that I’ve noticed that others haven’t seemed to pick up on. Yes, people are becoming more accepting of these issues, but there are still major problems associated with them. There still seems to be a major stigma attached to taking medication for mental health issues.

Although I’d had GAD for years, it was only in fifth year that I was properly diagnosed, and in sixth year living with it was an absolute nightmare. I was working my ass off to get the course of my dreams, Midwifery, but was finding it extremely hard to cope with the stress and pressure I was putting myself under. I tried everything, and I mean everything, to fix myself. I went to different counsellors, I meditated, I did yoga, I exercised, I paid a bomb for hypnotherapy and tried numerous herbal alternatives to medication, but in the end nothing was working.

I’d exhausted all of my options and decided that it was time to see a doctor, but there was one thing that was putting me off. I was informed that in a job like Midwifery, your medical records are checked and if you’ve had any mental health issues in the past you won’t be hired. This irritated me beyond description. Essentially, I was being told that I would be judged because I had a mental illness, and that nobody wanted to hire a mentally ill person. Discrimination is a word that sprung to mind immediately, I was disgusted. I thought to myself, isn’t it better to hire somebody who has been diagnosed with an illness and is being treated for it, so that it won’t affect their work, than to leave them scared and ashamed to take the medication that they need for fear of losing their job?

This incident left me petrified to go near any medication for my anxiety, I’d worked so hard for my course and I wasn’t going to let something as stupid as my medical record stop me from achieving my dream. In the end, my anxiety alone stopped me from achieving my dream, because I was too afraid to get the medical help that I clearly needed. Had I been medicated when my anxiety was at its all-time worse, I probably would have gotten the course that I deserved.

My parents, along with myself, were afraid of what would happen if I went on medication. It balances out the chemicals in your brain, which sounds a little scary when your brain is the control panel of your whole body. When my anxiety got bad again this semester, I decided that I needed to give medication a try. No newspaper in the future is going to be asking for my medical records, and I’m pretty sure I’ll have figured out how to keep my anxiety under control in five or six years time anyways. I was prescribed medication that I can’t even remember the name of, and if I’m honest it was a load of crap. I lost interest in absolutely everything, and if anything it was making me worse. I gave it some time to work, but after two months decided that enough was enough. I was stuck in a rut again. Medication didn’t work, what was I going to do now?

I went back to my doctor who decided we’d try another approach, and I was prescribed Xanax. Yes, Xanax. When I heard the word, I started to imagine how I’d be on these tablets: drowsy, slurred speech, unaware of my surroundings. After the horror stories of Xanax that I’d heard, I was terrified to take them. I read the side effects on the instructions leaflet and almost started to cry, what kind of freak was this going to turn me into? I don’t take them regularly, only when I’m in a fit of anxiety, so when I had my first bout of panic after receiving my prescription I tried one out, and was pleasantly surprised. It calmed me down, and that was all that it did. It didn’t make me drowsy or crazy or weird, I was just like myself, but calm. It seemed like I had finally found the answer to my problems.

I’m open about my anxiety and everybody knows it, but for some reason I was afraid to tell anyone that I was taking medication for it. Not that I’d be shouting it from the rooftops anyways, but for example, when I take one during the day I can’t drink afterwards. If me and my friends were going out and somebody asked why I wasn’t drinking, there wasn’t a hope in hell that I felt comfortable saying it was because I was on medication for anxiety. I was ashamed of it, something that annoyed me, because I wouldn’t have been ashamed if I was on antibiotics for a throat infection. I wouldn’t have been ashamed if I couldn’t drink sugary alcoholic drinks because I was diabetic. So why was I so ashamed about being on Xanax? What I’d been told in sixth year had stuck with me, that I wouldn’t be accepted if I was on medication for a mental illness.

I went through eleven years of anxiety before I finally gave in and tried medication, and if I’d only tried it sooner it probably wouldn’t be as bad as it is today. Another reason I waited so long is that I was always told “Medication for mental health issues isn’t good for you”. Well you know what? Medication for many different issues “isn’t good for you”. If you take medication for a very long time or abuse it, it can wreak havoc on your body, but nobody says that about other illnesses. It’s always mental health issues, and I’m tired of it.

If a friend or family member is on medication for their mental health, please don’t jump to conclusions and think that it’s going to alter their lives or tell them that it’s not good for them. Believe me, we’ve heard it all before and weighed up every option before deciding to go down the medical route. What I’d say to anyone who, like me, had exhausted every other option is this: do not be afraid to take medication. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it, and change things up when they’re not working. Not all medication works for everyone, and it may take a while to find one that suits you. I’m not saying to go straight down the route of medication, but please, don’t be afraid to try it. It could be the one thing that really helps.

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One thought on “Mental Illness Medication – Still a Stigma?

  1. I went through much the same that you did. My parents warned against medication, and even after I was 18, I was told that it would screw me up in the head worse than I already was. I took it upon myself to go to the doctor and admit that I needed to try medication. My parents were really afraid because of the horror stories they’d heard about people killing themselves after starting medication for mental illness. After it was evident it was helping me, they started to lighten up about it and eventually became glad I started it. I learned to be open about taking medication for it. Once you get past the embarrassment when people give you funny looks, when you learn to let the comments slide off your back, it gets easier. I hope it gets easier for you.

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