Trigger Warning: Discussions of pills, mental health conditions and suicidal thoughts.
A recent Daily Mail headline ran with a quote from the British Prince that many of us hold dear shaming people that take medication. Yup, Prince Harry told doctors how to do their jobs when he said “we must stop handing out pills to cure all ills”, referring, of course, to the 75.1 million antidepressant prescriptions filled in the UK in 2016.
Whilst they may seem harmless, comments like this from the ginger prince have the potential to be very harmful to some very vulnerable people. Medication can be incredibly helpful to people who suffer from mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, or OCD, but by adding to the stigma surrounding medication, we’re putting people off getting the help they need. While the gold standard in mental health care is talking therapies such as CBT, the waiting times leave many people feeling underwhelmed, even though they are on-target for the NHS. Currently, 88.8% of people receive therapy within six weeks of being referred on the NHS, and 98.5% are seen within eighteen weeks. But six weeks can be an incredibly long time when you’re struggling with mental health problems, and often the medication that doctors prescribe during that wait time can be a godsend.
Indeed, the choice often isn’t between pills and counselling, like many assume. Instead, it’s usually between pills and nothing for a good few weeks. Whilst antidepressants aren’t necessarily a miracle cure, they can be a great help while waiting for therapy and beyond. As long as you’ve discussed antidepressants with and had them prescribed by your doctor and are keeping an eye on the side effects, why the hell shouldn’t you take them?
“The Daily Mail is not your doctor. Prince Harry is not your doctor.”
Even if it’s possible for you to access treatment in much less time, or for you to look into other options like exercise programmes, it’s important to take into account how your illness may actively prevent you from engaging in treatments that require any more effort than a blister pack and a glass of water. The way my GP and I approach things looks at it this way; a plan to go to the gym three times a week and a weekly CBT appointment are pointless if I’m too depressed to leave the house. Medication can make more energy-intensive treatments accessible.
What’s more, sometimes exercise and therapy aren’t enough to help people manage their mental illness. Exercise is supposed to help boost levels of brain chemicals that help regulate mood, and therapy can help you look at the way you deal with the thoughts you are having; but if your problem is caused by chemical imbalances, then you’re going to see this deficit whatever it is you’re doing. I’m not suggesting you get someone to poke around in your brain to confirm it actually is the case (very risky!) but if there’s a relatively safe way to treat what we think is the cause, then why do we still have comments like Harry’s hitting the headlines?
friendly reminder that if you can’t make your own neurotransmitters, store bought is fine ??❤
— spoopy court ?? (@CourtLovesAvi) September 28, 2017
Now, I’m not suggesting that we all go to our GP’s offices and demand some Prozac because our best friend took longer than a minute to text back – of course not, that would be unnecessary and irresponsible. These drugs do have side effects and there is an unclear link between antidepressants and suicidal thoughts – enough of a link that the FDA requires a black box warning for use in children and teens, and that your doctor will probably advise you tell at least one person close to you when you start taking them as a precaution. But the Daily Mail is not your doctor. Prince Harry is not your doctor. That person who created that meme calling trees antidepressants is NOT YOUR F*CKING DOCTOR. Do you know who is your doctor? YOUR ACTUAL DOCTOR. And they are the only person who can tell you whether or not medication may be appropriate.
Lots of people take antidepressants for a variety of reasons and also for various lengths of time. Some people may use them just while they’re on a wait list, some people may use them just for that boost till other therapies become effective, and some people may rely on them for the rest of their lives (I’ve been on them for four years and counting, and have no desire to stop or even reduce the dose). That decision needs to be made by the patient and the clinician, working together in the best interests of the patient.
That decision is not down to any of the royals or the newspapers, unless one of them has recently qualified as a doctor specialising in general medicine or mental health. You shouldn’t let anyone make you feel ashamed of a medical intervention that could literally be the difference between life and death.
Here at The Nopebook, we say NOPE to pill shaming. And you should too.
None of the above is meant to be taken as medical advice. If you are worried about your mental health or want to change any medication that you take for your mental health (start, increase or decrease) please see your GP.