Taking medication to address anxiety, depression, trauma, or other related issues is still highly stigmatized. Let’s unpack why.
Note: This article is only meant as an educational resource, not to provide clinical recommendations.
According to a 2019 national survey, 16% of adults receiving some form of mental health treatment also received medication to improve their mental health. Three years prior to that survey, it was reported that out of all U.S. adults, 1 in 6 reported taking a psychiatric drug.
Here we are at the end of 2022, after a worldwide pandemic and multiple history-making social movements, and we can only assume that these numbers have gone up. The demand for mental health treatment has drastically increased, and with it, the proportion of adults who are prescribed some form of psychiatric medication.
What do we mean by “psychiatric medication?”
We are referring to medication designed to improve an individual’s mental health, most commonly to address anxiety, depression, and trauma-related disorders. In no way a comprehensive list, some of the more common psychiatric medications include the antidepressants Zoloft, Lexapro, and Prozac, the stimulants Adderall and Ritalin, mood stabilizers like Lithium, and antianxiety medications like Ativan, Xanax, and Valium.
Each of these drugs works in different ways to address a chemical imbalance in the body, and therefore, improve the individual’s mental health. Of course, medication alone is usually not enough. It can support and enhance the overall treatment process, which generally includes counseling or some form of therapy in addition to the medication. Medication can alleviate symptoms that prevent the healing process or distract from the goals of therapy.
So, what’s the stigma about?
Despite the evidence that large numbers of people are seeking out mental health treatment, psychiatric medication is still highly stigmatized. The idea of relying on pills to feel better goes against the prevailing notion that independence and self-sufficiency are valued above all else, especially in Western cultures. When we say “stigma,” we are referring not only to the public narrative that those who rely on medication for mental health are “weak,” but to the internal dialogue and beliefs we hold about ourselves. Mental health treatment is more socially acceptable and accessible now than ever, but that doesn’t negate the internal stigma we hold regarding the idea of needing help.
For minorities and marginalized communities, these stigmas are often exacerbated by a deeply rooted distrust of medical institutions and social services. These systems have neglected and harmed marginalized communities throughout history, thereby creating more nuances and layers to the stigma that is already present.
Further, many individuals fear that once they begin taking medication, they will need to rely on it forevermore. To this, we pose the question: if it’s helping you live a higher quality of life, is there anything wrong with needing it for a longer period of time, or even for the rest of your life? Individuals also may genuinely fear the side effects associated with these medications. It is important to seriously consider the risks, and to talk with your healthcare provider about any concerns you might have.
A Simple Question
Medication is not for everyone. But often, even those who may be helped by it are not given the opportunity to consider it.
Again, we are not here to provide clinical recommendations, but to present ideas that can hopefully support you in achieving the life you desire. For some of us, medication is a key step in achieving a greater and more holistic sense of well-being.
When it comes to psychiatric medication, we simply ask you: have you considered it?
In Our Own Words
Medication, for me, was was essential in getting through some of those challenges. And teaching me the things that again, I had to do outside of that, that I wanted to continue doing. And I was nervous to get off of it for that reason, like, well, is this the only reason I’m sleeping now?
And you were you were nervous to get on it? I don’t know if you recall.
Yeah, I know. And I was, and I think part of it was the stigma but also–no, actually, for me, I don’t think it was stigma.
I do. Yeah. Because you were like, what if I need to be on it forever? I was like, then you need to be on it forever. Like the only reason to ask the question of what if I need to be on it forever? Is the stigma of what does that say about me? If I need meds? That’s the only reason to ask that question. And that you asked that with the most seriousness at that time. Yeah, I think it was when we talk about stigma. I mean, let’s just double click on that for a minute. Because I mean, you and I tossed the word around because we’re in the field and we know what stigma mean. But what ultimately we’re saying is, what does this say about me? If and in this case, the assumptions are, I’m crazy. I can’t handle things on my own. I’m not good enough to figure out life on my own. I need help for the rest of my life. Right? It’s everything that is against what I think is one of the most core identities of American culture, this idea of being self sufficient, and what does it mean to be a successful person? It means I can handle stuff myself. Therefore, if I need help of any kind, one thing counseling, let alone some damn meds, what’s wrong with me? And so?
Elizabeth Joy: I think it’s important for people to know is that there are times where biologically, honey, it ain’t about your willpower. [There are] chemical realities going on that you ain’t gonna be able to will yourself out of. It don’t got nothing to do with your abilities.
For the full video, follow us on LinkedIn . For live group coaching with Elizabeth & Laine, peer-to-peer support, and a wealth of resources to improve your well-being in all 8 spheres of success, join us in the Joy Society membership community!