Let's Stop The Pill Shaming
Every day at noon I get a little alarm telling me it’s time to take my meds. And the best part is, I can adjust that little alarm to remind me as any character I please. There’s Dory from Finding Nemo, Gandalf from Lord of the Rings, and my personal favorite, Elsa from Frozen. Elsa sings things like “Let my health stay strong, I’m gonna take my meds anyway” and “Take your pills, take your pills, can’t miss a dose anymore.” It’s a little thing like that which makes sure I take my medication, which can be hard when you have to do it every day.
I’ve been on fluoxetine, better known as Prozac, for almost five years now. I started out at 10 mg, then 20, and I’ve been on 40 mg for almost the entirety of my time on Prozac. Prozac is often the first line of defense when it comes to treating depression, which is what I take it for. When I started taking Prozac, I was at the lowest point in my life. I was at the point at which I had suffered for years and was outright tired of depression, anxiety, eating disorder, and suicidal thoughts. I realized I had two options: life or death.
I couldn’t go on living the way I was anymore, I knew that. If I kept up the way I was, I would not have made it to my 18th birthday. I knew either my eating disorder was going to kill me, or I would do it myself. And so I decided to take a leap of faith. I’m not gonna go into recovery and the relapses and all that because that would just take too long, but I will say that this wasn’t an instantaneous or easy process. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
And now I’m alive and doing quite well for myself. I, in fact, did make it to my 18th birthday and I’m now 21 and about to graduate college. And I’m happy! I still have depressive episodes sometimes, but they’re few and far between. And of course, there’s a lot of factors that led to me being where I am today: the partial hospitalization eating disorder treatment I got, lots and lots of therapy, my wonderful friends, my own strength, etc. But I also believe Prozac played a really big role.
I can’t know this, but I genuinely don’t think I would be here if it wasn’t for Prozac. Prozac didn’t make the depression go away, it didn’t even make me happy. But it helped me get back to normal. It cleared some of the fog in my brain so that I could have the motivation to do basic things like getting out of bed, getting dressed, and going to therapy. Without Prozac, therapy would have been a lot less helpful. Because of Prozac, I can go about my days. It’s really and truly been a lifesaver and I’m very thankful for it.
I want to note that I’m not saying medications are perfect, or right for everyone because they aren’t. My experiences have been positive and I recognize how lucky I’ve been. Approximately one-third of people with depression are considered treatment-resistant, meaning that they failed to respond to at least one antidepressant (Rush, et al., 2008).
And even if a medication works, that’s not to say it will be without side effects. 38% of people with depression experience side effects, the most common of which are weight gain, sleepiness, and sexual dysfunction and 26% of people said these side effects were either “very bothersome” or “extremely bothersome” (Cascade, et al., 2009). So there are issues with antidepressants that need to be addressed. Treatment resistance, side effects, and interactions with other medications make antidepressants the wrong choice for some people, and that’s okay.
However, there’s a difference between acknowledging the issues with medication and pill shaming. Pill shaming if a form of mental health stigma when someone expresses negative views about psychiatric medication and the people who take them. It is often borne of the idea that medication is the easy way out, that people who take medication are weak, and that medication is unnecessary. This kind of belief is pervasive and hurts people who either are receiving treatment or need it.
My dad has pill shamed me countless times. He often suggests alternatives, diet and exercise changes. As if I would have the capability to exercise while depressed. He’s asked me about reducing the dose and not taking it anymore. He’s told me he “doesn’t want me to get addicted” (Prozac is not chemically addictive). I’ve had friends who’ve gone through similar experiences. One of my friends has been asked by her parents multiple times about taking medication and has been pressured to stop taking it.
I have been doing very well with my depression. Last year I was feeling so good in fact that I decided to see if I could lower my dosage. I had gone about a year without a depressive episode, which was unheard of for me. I went to the doctor over spring break and he told me to alternate between 20 and 40mg until my 40 were used up and then I could switch to 20. I didn’t get that far because I became depressed almost immediately. I went back to school and I was a wreck and had to call my doctor’s office crying and asking them to refill my 40mg prescription.
Feeling okay wasn’t an indication that I should try to mess with my Prozac dose, it was an indication that my Prozac was working. Prozac is the reason I function so well, the reason I don’t have episodes. I’ve realized since then that I may be on Prozac for the rest of my life, and I have no problem with that. I would rather be medicated than depressed. Prozac serves me well and I have a good thing going on right now and I don’t want to mess with it.
There’s no shame in taking medication for mental illness. There’s no shame in needing help. Medication isn’t for everyone, and that’s okay. But if medication is what helps you get through the days and it works for you, no one aside from you and your doctor should be sharing their opinion. Whatever is healthy and makes you feel better is great!
I want to leave on a quote from Andrew Solomon: “Some people are disabled by levels of depression that others can handle, and some contrive to function despite serious symptoms. Antidepressants help those who help themselves. To take medications as part of the battle is to battle fiercely, and to refuse them is as ludicrous as entering a modern war on horseback.”
Image Credit: LightField Studios/Shutterstock
Anatomy of Melancholy. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://andrewsolomon.com/articles/anatomy-of-melancholy/.
Cascade, E., Kalali, A. H., & Kennedy, S. H. (2009). Real-World Data on SSRI Antidepressant Side Effects. Psychiatry (Edgmont).
Rush, A. J., Trivedi, M. H., Wisniewski, S. R., Nierenberg, A. A., Stewart, J. W., Warden, D., … Fava, M. (2008). Acute and Longer-Term Outcomes in Depressed Outpatients Requiring One or Several Treatment Steps: A STAR*D Report. Focus, 6(1), 128–142. doi: 10.1176/foc.6.1.foc128