DISCLAIMER: I am not a mental health professional. The purpose of this post is to highlight the unfair stigma attached to mental health medications. This post is based on my own personal experience. Please seek clinical advice from a professional if you need it x
This post has sat in my drafts for a while. Mostly because I let societal stigma shut me up. I’m learning to be a little more open with my blog in the hope that it helps at least one person feel less alone and more understood.
After a very positive experience receiving psychotherapy I finally feel like I have a handle on my mental health. I’ve been taking mental health medication since I was 18. As a result I am quite versed in the world of Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors.
How do they work in a nutshell?
SSRIs work by stopping the brain from reabsorbing the neurotransmitter, serotonin, making more serotonin available. Serotonin plays an important part in regulating our mood, sense of well-being and helps ward off anxiety, fear, depression and aggression. One myth is that these medications are addictive. Substances that are addictive will have a detrimental effect on a person’s life but the addict will continually seek out the substance despite this. For a substance to be addictive it needs to intensely activate the reward and reinforcement pathways in our brain. SSRIs do not do this.
Why do people take them?
SSRIs are commonly prescribed for the treatment of clinical depression. Depression can be reactive or endogenous. Reactive depression is usually in response to a traumatic life event or stressor. Depression that is endogenous is caused by some internal factor, like your genetics and biology. To be diagnosed with clinical depression you need to experience several symptoms, every day, for at least two weeks. For some people SSRIs have helped them cope with a depressive episode. Some never have to take them again. For those with recurrent depression they may have to take them long-term. Everyone is different. Depression is not just sadness. Depression is not a feeling or an adjective to misuse. It is a serious illness that can have devastating effects on the individual and compassion is needed to aid them in recovery.
SSRIs get a lot of press. They’re demonised or romanticised in film and the media which doesn’t help. There are a plethora of scare-mongering websites that encourage people to take all sorts of natural ‘remedies’ in their stead. In my own experience a naturopath encouraged me to come off my medication and it was a disaster to say the least. If taking medication helps you to feel better the last thing you need is someone making you feel guilty about it. Unfortunately, there is a grotesque lack of empathy and love when you are suffering with mental illness. However, I do believe that deep down, we have a desire to be kind and being kind means not judging or shaming each other for the decisions we make to sustain our health.
Something to remember: medication that helps people live day to day and enjoy the things they once loved is no reason to shame people. Depression can be so severe that it can cause suicidal ideation and intent. SSRIs give people the breathing space they need to get back to a healthy place. Think about it: would you shame someone for using their inhaler? Those with asthma need their inhalers to literally help them breathe, SSRIs for a lot of people provide the same relief.
I refuse to be shamed for taking medication that helps me to live. For nearly 10 years SSRIs have helped me to be my true self without dwelling on past psychological trauma. Thanks to a talented psychotherapist, compatible medication and embracing my faith I have been able to live and achieve things that are important to me. Such as graduating from university, getting baptised and travelling to New York solo.
If you love someone who takes mental health medication please educate yourself. Ones should only come off medication with medical supervision and only when they are fit and able to do so, if ever. If you are unsure of the effects or side effects of mental health medication please read about it from reputable sources. Blurting out assumptions only harms those you love and makes you appear cold and frankly, ignorant.
I want those who read this to understand that medication for mental health deserves the same respect and validity as medication for your physical health. Our brain controls our body and emotions and when our brain is sick it needs medicine to recover.
Mental illness is NOT a choice. Those battling with their mental health everyday are warriors. Whether you choose to take medication, whether you find a healthy diet and regular exercise more beneficial or if you’re still at the self-medicating stage your pain and struggle is valid. Don’t let anyone make you feel weak because you’re not. There is nothing more painful and strenuous than fighting against your own mind.
With special love and thoughts for my fellow warriors, those who have recovered and those who are still in recovery.
Shout out to @makedaisychains on instagram for letting me use her art for my post. She’s the creator of the #boringselfcare hashtag if you haven’t heard of her 🙂
Further reading: What has serotonin to do with depression?