There is often stigma around medication for mental illness. If the doctor prescribed you antibioitics for an infection, many people would not have any reluctance to take them, or talk about the fact that they were taking them. But medication for mental illness is often, for some reason, thought of differently. People can feel reluctant to take medication for their mental health. Some feel ashamed, embarrassed, or that they shouldn’t need medication for mental health. They can feel that they should just get on with it. There is also the fear that people will judge them, or think of them differently for needing medication for their mental health.
It took several years for me to be persuaded to take medication for my mental health. I was prescribed anti-depressants and anti-psychotics when I was 19 during my first admission to hospital. I refused to take them. It wasn’t until my third admission (which is also my last admission) when I was 22 that I agreed to take anti-depressants, along with anti-psychotics. However, my reasoning for refusing to take medication for several years was different to those common reasons listed above. And I feel like my reasoning is probably slightly more common in those that have eating disorders. (Although I could be totally wrong as I have never discussed it with people before because, as I have said, people generally do not discuss medication prescribed for their mental health).
Why didn’t I want to take medication for mental illness?
People with eating disorders often have depression (although it can be a bit like the chicken and the egg – does the eating disorder cause the depression, or does the depression trigger the eating disorder), hence the prescription for anti-depressants. The anti-psychotic, in my case, was prescribed to help with anxiety and ruminating thoughts. I was incredibly reluctant to take both the antidepressant and the anti-psychotic, but in particular the anti-depressant. Why, you might ask? If the doctor thought that they would help, why wouldn’t I take them?
In short, I was scared. I was scared my anorexia would disappear if I started taking medication. Because although I wanted to have a life and not be completely ruled by anorexia, I still felt like I needed it – I needed it there to help me cope. I didn’t want to be ruled by it, but I didn’t want to lose it completely. I wanted to be able to manage it. But I was scared that if I started taking anti-depressants and anti-psychotics, my thoughts would no longer be my thoughts. That in some way the anti-depressants would poison my mind. That I wouldn’t be thinking like me, Bex, anymore, and it would make me lose anorexia. I was scared that I wouldn’t be in control of my own thoughts and that I would be brainwashed by this anti-depressant. It terrified me.
So why did I agree to take them?
Firstly, I was at an all time low. I had never felt so bad, so depressed, and so helpless. This did encourage me to consider taking anti-depressants (and anti-psychotics) because I knew I couldn’t carry on living like I was. I knew something had to change. Secondly, and very importantly, I spoke about my concerns and reasons for not wanting to take them to my consultant. And the way he explained it to me was really helpful. He basically explained that, in my current state, there was an imbalance of chemicals in my brain. And this imbalance was effecting my thoughts. So, rather than the medication manipulating my thoughts and making my thoughts not my own thoughts, the medication would actually help my thoughts be mine again as they should be. By correcting the chemical imbalance.
When I thought of it that way it really helped – that actually, I wasn’t thinking like me, Bex, now, and that the medication would help my thoughts to become more like my thoughts, Bex’s thoughts. So I did agree to start taking both the anti-depressant and the anti-psychotic. And they did help. They certainly were not a miracle cure which made me fully better, but they did allow me to think more clearly and reduce the amount I would chew over the same thoughts over and over again.
People often shame those for taking anti-depressants. But in the same way that people wear glasses to correct their vision, I take antidepressants to correct the chemical imbalance in my brain. There is nothing to be ashamed about. Medication for mental health is not a weakness. In fact, the medication I have taken has given me the strength to fight my mental illness.