Today, I’d like to start a new series within this blog: “Medication Monday.” Normally, this series will be when I take a closer look at a given medication for mental health. However, today I want to do something different. Today I want to use Medication Monday to call out the stigma surrounding mental health medication and call out a specific presidential candidate’s position on mental health medication.
First, the stigma. This stems from the stigma around mental illness generally, such as the misguided belief that those who are battling mental illness are somehow weak or lazy. The equally misguided medication stigma is that meds aren’t needed, they are just an excuse to not deal with your issues, an excuse for to pharmaceutical companies to pad their bottom line, etc. None of this is true.
The fact is that medication is an example of people dealing with their mental illnesses. Often, these medications make life livable for those who are suffering. Often, medication is the cavalry in one’s battle with the demons of mental illnesses. And given the trial and error that goes with finding the right dose of the right med, as well as the not-so-awesome side effects that often accompany these medications, there are fewer cases of them being taken when they aren’t needed than many might think.
Proponents of the idea that mental health medication is over used often pull out a series of statistics at this point. Specifically, they point out that according to surveys, 1 in 6 Americans use some type of psychiatric medication. Antidepressants are the most common, accounting for about 12 percent of Americans, followed by anti-anxiety meds, and then anti-psychotics. And of those mental health meds, data from 2009 that was reported by the American Psychological Association shows that 4 out of 5 prescriptions were written by a primary care doctor, who often has limited training in mental health issues. And while it is likely true that some of those people are on the wrong meds, it is a mistake to attack meds in general. As I’ve said, they can be a lifeline to many who need them. Rather, my inference from that data is that we need to make it easier for people to access mental health care, rather than relying on a primary care physician who is more likely to be covered by insurance than the mental health specialist.
And yet, attacking the use of mental health medication is exactly what author and presidential candidate Marianne Williamson did, essentially calling depression a scam and talking about how over prescribed depression meds were. In her defense, she did walk it back and say that there is real depression and medication can be important for that, but clarified that often depression is confused with the normal spectrum of human sorrow.
The problem is that Marianne Williamson is not a doctor, therapist, or scientist of any kind. She is not qualified to comment on real depression vs. the spectrum of human sorrow, or on America’s psychiatric drug use generally. And given the stigma I discussed earlier, this is incredibly dangerous, as it is more likely to prevent people from seeking mental health meds that they need, than addressing the problem of primary care doctors prescribing these meds more than mental health professionals.
I’ve said I wasn’t going to get political on this page, and yet again I am walking a fine line by being critical of a specific candidate. Yet, my primary concern on this page is the advancement of mental health policy in the United States and around the world. Any candidate that has such an unfortunate view of mental health policy has no business serving as a world leader, particularly given that 1 in 4 people will suffer from a mental health issue at some point in their life, and that these comments are more likely to harm them than help them.
And I am curious of your opinion as well. Do mental health meds help you or someone you know? And if you do take mental health medications, let me know your experiences, good or bad, if you feel like sharing. You can comment below or email me through the contact page.
Next week I will continue the Medication Monday series by answering these questions for myself and talking about Lexapro, my current medication.
And as always, thank you for reading.