OPINION: Don’t judge people for using medication to treat mental illness

Graphic by Catherine Ward

I have an alarm set for 9 a.m. every morning, and it isn’t to wake me up.

It’s to remind me to take two pills, a 20-milligram capsule and a 10-milligram capsule. It’s funny that I still have trouble remembering I’ve been on a similar cocktail since I was 12 years old.

I know that I shouldn’t be ashamed of it. The meds are vital for stabilizing my anxiety and allowing me to function. Yet for some reason, particularly at the 5Cs, I still feel like I’m doing something taboo.

Students at the 5Cs have a certain degree of awareness about mental illness. There isn’t a culture of shaming or a widespread belief that mental illness isn’t a real illness.

For the most part, people are understanding — until you mention that you take medication.

The first response is usually a barrage of questions.

“At this moment in my life, my prescription is something I need to function” — Eamon Morris PZ ’22

Have you ever tried going off them? Have you tried meditation? Have you tried aromatherapy? Have you tried praying? Have you tried going vegan?

Trust me, friends, if they’re on medication, they’ve tried everything. It just didn’t work for them. Even if they haven’t explored holistic alternatives, people with mental illness don’t owe it to anyone to try different “treatments” especially when another one is already working just fine.

Most antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications are called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Essentially, these bad boys prevent the brain from throwing away a lot of the serotonin it produces (a lack of which is one of the major causes of depression).   

Yes, these medications alter your brain chemistry from what it was before you started taking them. But it’s altering the brain chemistry to work how it should, effectively and efficiently, without overabundances or shortages of certain chemicals.

No one’s poisoning themselves by using antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications as prescribed. The long-term side effects of antidepressants are fairly hazy.

What we do know from the self-reports on side effects is that they’re minor, with the most common being sexual arousal problems — the same problems associated with long-term use of marijuana.

Even if there were enough evidence to suggest long-term negative physical effects of psychiatric medications, many people with mental illnesses would rather be physically unwell to some degree than unable to function at all.

While some medications can cause debilitating side effects, the way the body responds to them varies from person to person and from medication to medication.

There’s a contradiction at the 5Cs. You can loudly announce in a dining hall that you dropped acid at Joshua Tree over the weekend, and no one will bat an eye. But if you say you’re on antidepressants, there’s a sense of judgment. Many people seem to think you’re poisoning your body, or that you’re leaning on a crutch that you can live without.

Sometimes I think that’s true.

I want to be off this medication someday. In a sense, it is a crutch. Still, no one asks people with broken legs if they’ve considered changing their diet.

At this moment in my life, my prescription is something I need to function. Quite frankly, people who suggest others stop taking their medications and start trying something else are endangering the health of their peers.

There’s little to no judgment of people who recreationally use drugs such as marijuana, shrooms or acid. But there’s a general sense of displeasure and doubt surrounding people who medicate legally to treat their mental illnesses. It seems that the second something becomes labeled as a medication, its use becomes suspect.

Mental health needs to be destigmatized further, of course. But destigmatization does not make everyone with an opinion and a smile into a mental health professional with the right to provide alternative treatment solutions to those living with mental illness.

Eamon Morris PZ ’22 is from Orange, California. His sister takes cool photos. Follow her on Instagram at @shotsbymag.

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