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Pill Shaming in the World of Mental Health

This article is based on the personal experience of the author. The content is not intended as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider for any personal medical advice about medication.

As someone who has struggled with my mental health and coming to terms with seeking treatment, it is important to share the various ways people are shamed for their mental health.

For the first semester of my Freshman year of college, I spent most days suffering with feelings of anxiety and intrusive thoughts. I remember waking up in the morning and as my eyes opened my anxiety was itching to make its appearance. I went through my day with an upset stomach, fast heartbeat, clammy hands, and racing thoughts. I had struggled with my mental health for years but never allowed myself to voice it.

College was supposed to be a life expanding transition full of growth, or so I thought. But instead I felt like I was trapped. I felt ashamed when I was researching therapy options. Do people my age even go to therapy? Why can’t I work through this myself? I asked myself these questions over and over, but I was determined to feel a sense of relief mentally so I continued searching. After a couple weeks I was able to find a therapist in my area and set up a consultation. After the first session I felt anxious but excited for my journey to seek help. After a few sessions, I began feeling more comfortable in attending therapy, and even began telling people. And then one session my therapist asked me a question that made me feel like I was back at square one, “what are your thoughts about taking medication for your OCD and Anxiety?”

Many of us are aware of the stigma around mental health, but not many talk about the stigma that psychiatric medication holds in the mental health world. According to author, Kimberly Holland and the National Alliance on Mental Health, “Pill shaming occurs when someone expresses negative opinions or disdain when you tell them you’re using medication to treat a mental health issue” (Holland, 2018). Unfortunately pill shaming not only comes from those around us but also from ourselves.

When I began thinking about taking medication to help my mental health, I was left asking myself questions such as, “Am I really not strong enough to do this on my own? Will the medication make me gain weight? Will my personality change? Will people think differently of me?” These questions left me overwhelmed and wanting to avoid medication at all costs. It also doesn't help that society has set a standard for those suffering with mental health to “try exercising, or eating healthy” rather than beginning a medication. While this may work for some, it simply contributes to the stigma around medication for mental health treatment as a whole. It is also extremely detrimental to those who feel like they have tried all the holistic treatments without finding one that worked.

I knew that going to therapy was helping me, but I was still suffering everyday from severe anxiety and uncontrollable intrusive thoughts. Something had to change about how I was feeling, so I finally decided to give medication a try. My therapist worked with me through my anxiety around medication. I started off with a small dose of Sertraline, and was told that when I was ready I could increase my dosage. Within a couple weeks of taking the medication, and pushing through the slight side effects, I began feeling my body calm down. I realized what it was like to not feel on edge at most hours of the day. My brain had a quietness to it from the decrease intrusive thoughts. I began flourishing mentally, not only because of the medication, but also because I was in a better state of mind to utilize what I was learning in therapy.

Mental health is just as important as physical health. When you're sick with a cold, or have a hurt back you take medicine. The same should go for if you're feeling ill from your mental health. It takes a brave person to break societal norms, and prioritizing your mental health is something to be proud of, not ashamed of.

If you’re looking for a mental health provider, let Unmute help match you to the right therapist for free today, get matched here.

Kaylee O’Connell, is an Unmute Therabuddy. Therabuddies are everyday people, many with lived experience in muted or marginalized communities who have experienced the challenges of finding the right therapist and want to help make it easier for you!

Note: This article covers general information & guidance. If someone you know is in crisis, please call the emergency services or the national suicide helpline: 1-800-273-8255.The content is not intended as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider for any personal medical advice about medication

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