Several weeks ago I got the third degree from a medical professional about my use of anti-anxiety medication and antidepressants. I will add that this individual was not a psychiatrist, or a MD or DO of any specialty. Yet it was apparent that he believed that taking medication for depression and anxiety was neither necessary or advisable. He was far from the first person that has challenged my need to take medication for a diagnosed medical condition.
In contrast, conventional treatments and medications for illnesses such as diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, or asthma are considered natural and lifesavers by lay people as well as doctors. Very few people would make the suggestion that your cancer could be cured by cashews (apparently eating cashews is the same as taking Prozac though), even if some choose to embrace alternative medicine for a variety of illnesses and diseases.
I am always wary when I see another article about natural ways to combat depression or ways to manage anxiety without medication. Not because I disagree with the fact that some people can find relief for symptoms through methods that are not medication (I have myself), but that often unintentionally (or intentionally) they contribute to the stigma surrounding medication use for mental illness. Natural methods work for some people, but they don’t work for everyone.
If mental illness isn’t stigmatized enough, take medication for it and be ready to be judged even more harshly. You would think that since over 10% of Americans are on anti-depressants and even more take anti-anxiety medication we would be more accepting of them as a society. Yet many people still feel incredibly ashamed for taking medications for their mental illness. Many more pass judgment on those people who do take these medications that help keep them healthy and in many cases are life saving just like those for “physical” illness.
If you believe that mental illness is not real illness, then medication is not needed at all. If you believe that depression can be vanquished with a little fresh air and time spent with friends, then taking medication is weak or lazy. If you believe that anxiety is a result of “unresolved sin,” or not enough faith, then it can be cured by prayer and the Bible, not medication.
If all you have heard about psychiatric medication are the awful side effects, you might choose to not take medication to avoid them. If you believe that your health record might cause problems down the road with obtaining medical insurance or your job prospects, you may choose not to try medication. If you have a fear of being judged or stereotyped as “crazy,” you also may not consider medication as an option.
This is why I use medication…
It helped clear the fog
I began taking antidepressants, and later anti-anxiety medication because I was desperate. I was at the bottom of a deep, dark hole and couldn’t see my way out. Therapy on its own wasn’t working because the depression felt so oppressive. I couldn’t take advantage of exercise or hanging out with friends to boost my mood because most days it was an accomplishment to simply get out of bed. I felt so hopeless and filled with self hatred that I wondered what the point was anymore. I couldn’t function normally.
As a college student I had begun taking an antidepressant that helped some, until several years later when a doctor (who wasn’t a psychiatrist) convinced me I could and should go off medication. Yes, I was “tapered” off. But the results were devastating. Due to going off the medication and some life events at the time, I plunged into depression and extreme anxiety unlike any I had ever experienced before.
It took going through several psychiatrists and multiple medications to find a combination that worked for me. And it was not an easy road. Yes, like any medication, there were side effects. I even had a pretty bad allergic reaction to one. There were three psychiatrists that were generally insensitive, unavailable, and well, just plain awful. With my last psychiatrist I found a doctor and medication combo that worked well for me, and I have been with them for over six years.
Being on medication didn’t cure me from the depression and anxiety or make every day a perfect day. But it did clear the fog, manage the symptoms, and give me a light and a ladder in that hole.
I use it in conjunction with therapy/other methods
I would never recommend that an individual simply take antidepressants and that’s all. The great thing about medication was that it got me to the point where I could actually get some effective work done in therapy. So I could dive into the underlying causes of depression and work on techniques to combat anxiety when it occurred and do the hard work.
Although I have not been going regularly to therapy in the last year, I am looking to return on a monthly basis soon. Therapy can be a great tool for anyone (yes, even those without mental illness) to have an objective, unbiased person to talk out what is going on in your life with. Therapy can help you make a plan for dealing with tough stuff you have going on and help you gain tools to build your self esteem.
And just because I’m on antidepressants doesn’t mean that other great tools such as exercise, eating healthy, and self care can be ignored. When I do ignore them, I definitely feel it. The natural boost from taking a long walk with my husband, eating lunch with a friend, or spending time focusing on my interests helps immensely.
It continues to stabilize my moods
After ten years on one medication or another, I don’t plan on making any changes anytime soon. Medication is a key tool in my depression and anxiety beating toolbox that has definitely gone a long way towards stabilizing my moods. As a result it has allowed me to do some great things in the last decade without constantly being crippled with anxiety and depression.
Whatever path you take in treating your personal depression and anxiety, medication is an option, a very valid option. If it works for you, don’t be ashamed of it. If you don’t want to try medication or have gone off your medication because of the stigma surrounding it, I hope you’ll reconsider. And if you have gotten great results from using natural methods instead of medication, you do what works for you!
How do you feel about the stigma surrounding medication use for anxiety and depression? What works for you personally?