I was recently having lunch with a woman who has a series of medical issues, including pain management. One of the medications she is on is oxycodone. She said she would like to get off of the oxycodone but when she has tried, the pain has been unbearable and no other pain medication would touch her pain. So I asked her, “if this medication is working for you and other medications don’t work, then why are you trying to get off of it?”
She said it was because of the stigma attached to that medication.
So I told her something important – you can’t let stigma make your treatment decisions.
Stigma and Mental Health
Anyone who has a mental illness knows the stigma against the disease. There are the people who tell you the disease isn’t real, that you’re doing it on purpose, that you enjoy the attention, that you could get better if you really wanted to, and so on. Mental illness isn’t thought of as an illness as much as it is like a bad hair day. OK, many bad hair days. (Although really, who want attention for bad hair?)
Stigma and Antidepressants
When Prozac became available in the mid-1980s it seemed everyone was taking it. And so there was a backlash against Prozac, antidepressants and the idea of depression in general. An overprescribed med is never good, but then an underprescribed one isn’t so great either.
Stigma and Antipsychotics
I fought against taking antipsychotics for a long time. “Psychotic?” I was not psychotic and I refused to take a medication that suggested I was. (The side effect profile wasn’t terribly appealing either.)
And, in point of fact, I was not psychotic. But antipsychotics are used to treat many disorders, the primary of which is schizophrenia, but taking one doesn’t mean you’re psychotic in the least. It just means your brain chemicals need what those drugs have to offer. (And to be clear, psychosis isn’t something to be ashamed of either.)
Stigma and Mental Health Treatment
And now there is a stigma against getting any pharmacological treatment at all, let alone something crazy like vagus nerve stimulation, repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation or electroconvulsive therapy.
This is ridiculous.
Some people don’t like certain treatments; no problem; I suggest they not have them. But judging someone else for getting them is like judging someone based on their haircut. Yeah, a mohawk isn’t my thing, but it’s hardly a reason for judgment.
A Haircut Isn’t a Treatment for Mental Illness
OK, granted, a hairstyle is not equivalent to medication – medication is more personal. Lots of people walk around with whatever Jennifer Aniston is wearing and think it’s nifty, but lots of people aren’t helped by the same psychotropic cocktail. Brains are different. Illnesses are different. And they’re a heck of a lot more different than face shapes and skin tone.
My Treatment is None of Your Business
So if I take 17 antipsychotics, stand on my head or spend six months in a cave to treat my mental illness it’s really none of your business. What works for me, works for me. Period. I don’t expect it to work for someone else. And I don’t judge someone else for making another choice. It’s personal. (After all, a dank cave plays havoc on your hair. Some people just aren’t willing to pay that price.)