Pride and Medicine: Why do we stigmatise antidepressants?

More and more we are becoming increasingly aware of mental illness. So why do we still pretend it's anything other than the illness it is?

Last year following an “actual” illness, where I was hospitalised and continued to “soldier on” through my busy schedule, I became depressed. It’s funny how we say that, as though somehow becoming depressed is a lifestyle choice. Regardless of how it happened, it was something I became aware of and yet was sure I could deal with on my own.

Looking back now, I can’t believe I ever believed anxiety and crying every day was OK. Soon, not only I but my friends and family starting accepting this as my 'normal' behaviour. I wholly believed it was actually part of my character. I visited a psychologist but things were not improving and no amount of will power and positive thinking alone was cheering me up. We all knew I was mentally ill, so why were we so sceptical of seeking medical attention?

Why do we still pretend mental illness is anything other than the illness it is?

 

Despite the big talk of mental illness affecting 1 in 5 Australians and people taking "mental health days " there seems to be a overarching belief that mental illness isn’t a real illness. And for me, it wasn't just other people around me who reinforced this stigmatism. In fact, it was my own pride that kept me from seeking medical attention.  

After months of ongoing tears, I was finally dragged me to a psychiatrist.  In the lead up to and even after the first couple of meetings, I remember thinking there is absolutely no way I’m taking drugs. Not only did I believe that mental illness could not be solved by “unnatural” medicines, I was convinced that it would change who I was entirely. And most importantly, I thought it was a defeatist attitude. 

When you’re experiencing anxiety and depression it often feels like you are trapped inside a big black box. We tell ourselves, only we can get ourselves out of there.  I’m smart, I can work this one out on my own, thank you.  You may have had these kinds of thoughts yourself, about your own mental health or perhaps about someone else’s.

 

  • One out of every five Australians will experience some form of mental illness each year. 

  • Approximately two-­thirds of people with a mental illness do not receive any treatment in any 12 month period. 

  • Mental disorders and suicide account for 14.2% of Australia's total health burden.

           -  Mental Health Foundation of Australia

 

There is no doubt about it; only you can climb out yourself. But think of antidepressants as a ladder. Why did I insist on climbing without it when it was right beside me? The answer is pride and distrust. 

Luckily for me, a bit of convincing allowed me to acknowledge depression as a serious illness and see antidepressants almost as pain killer for my mind’s constant headache. I can’t believe I had let my pride prevent me from an easy way out of that black box for so long, whilst I was "soldiering on," aka: struggling to get out on my own.

I couldn't help thinking antidepressants were unnatural and that “taking drugs” was for quitters. An easy way out.

 

Years later I am the happiest, strongest and most grounded I have been in all my life. Do I feel like myself? Yes. Do people think I've changed? Yes. I actually asked my friends and family this question and the general consensus was that they hadn't even considered the reason for the change, because they had just been enjoying being with the real me again.

Most importantly, I don’t feel any less like myself and I certainly don’t feel like a quitter. 

Drugs aren’t the answer to everyone’s problems. But they can be an excellent catalyst. It’s true, I did need to climb out of depression myself, but without the ladder I might still be in there now, clawing at the wall.

 

If you or someone you know is experiencing mental illness you can seek help from the following Australian services:  

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