It’s Mental Illness Awareness Week. It’s been going on since 1990 (22 years ago). HealthyPlace’s Facebook question of the day on Monday was “Do you think we’ve made progress in the acceptance of mental illness since ?” In some ways, yes. Yet in many ways, I think big pharma caused the stigma of mental illness to get worse instead of better.
Even though more and more people are diagnosed with mental illness every year, there are still so many misunderstandings about it. These misunderstandings leave many people feeling more different, alone, and self judgmental than ever.
Drug companies, in disguised attempts to sell drugs (the disguise being the intention to stop stigma) actually contribute to mental health stigma instead. They say that people with depression need anti-depressives like diabetics need insulin. They talk about chemical imbalance. In the public eye, they appear taking the blame away from person. We eat this up and agree and repeat it thinking we are being politically correct. We think this helps people with mental illness. But it helps pharmaceuticals sell their medications.
The truth is we are never balanced, our hormones are changing constantly, up and down with our hourly experiences and daily happenings. Our hormones respond to our mood and our mood responds to our hormones. Hormonal change is normal functioning.
I am not saying that medications are bad, they save and relieve millions of people. I just have a problem with defining people by saying they “need” it. When deciding about medication, it important to look at the risks and benefits. “Needing” the medication is what makes people lose touch with their personal agency. And what ultimately has them feeling so different, weak, and defeated. This is the stigma. However, if they felt like they had the power to chose medicines because those medicines benefited their progress toward their goal, or if they felt like they could chose not to take medicine and try something different, mental illness would be experienced differently.
And we can finally do something to stop the stigma that plagues us.
How to Deny Big Pharma’s Stigmatizing “You Need It” Message
Big Pharma wants people to believe that taking a pill with be a quick fix, and that a given diagnosis means they need it. This makes people think they are inherently flawed and contributes to the stigma that people who experience mental health problems feel more than any other cultural discourse.
But for full healing, it is important to work on our problems, too. To face them and get over them, with therapy, church, alternative practitioners, self help groups, on retreats, by reading books, or sharing with our closest friends–while taking or choosing not to take the medicine. Each and every person can benefit from these.
People with mental illness want to know that they can improve, that their lives can improve, and that they themselves can do something about it. Families and communities want to feel helpful, instead of afraid and useless.
With a good practitioner, this can work wonders on a person’s mental health and wellbeing. This can eliminate the stigma via a different route. Talking about mental illness and clarifying what it is can help. Let’s keep the discussion going.
What do you think the biggest contributor of mental health stigma? Comment below.
By Jodi Lobozzo Aman