Wednesday, August 1, 2012

"Have you tried counseling?" The Stigma Against Psychiatric Medication

When you first begin having mental health problems, everyone leaps to recommend counseling.  People rush to send you recommendations for therapists, caring professors include the link and phone number for the on-campus counseling center in their syllabi.

No one ever tells you what to do when the counseling doesn’t work.  When you end up crying uncontrollably during and after each session.  When you dread your counseling sessions so much that you cancel, because you’re having a good day and you don’t want all those emotions dredged up again.  When each session only serves to remind you of how utterly awful your life is.

And that’s where medication comes in.  Medication as an option, that you have to research yourself, because no one ever suggests it.  And there’s this constant current of disappointment just below the surface when you talk to people about it.  They say “Have you tried counseling?” and then when you inform them that yes, in fact, you have, they assume you just haven’t tried hard enough.  That maybe it was the wrong counselor, or the wrong type of therapy.  They urge you not to be so hasty, not to let one bad experience taint your vision of therapy.  “Go back!” they say.  “Try again!” they say.

Why the hell would I want to go back to a treatment that caused me extreme emotional distress?

It’s because there’s such a stigma against psychiatric medication in our society.  Therapy is accepted, so commonplace it’s almost trendy.  But medication is a no-no, because as soon as you go on medication, there’s something Wrong with you.  You’ve become one of Those People, those crazy people, who relies on medication to be stable.

“But medication can have side effects!” they say.  And true, that is certainly an issue you have to consider when going on medication.  But it’s like an infected wound.  What’s better - poking repeatedly at the wound so it becomes even more inflamed  and infected, or providing antibiotics, which can have side effects, but will clear up the infection in the long run?

“It’s all a big hoax!” they say.  “Big Pharma and all of that!” Well, I’m here to tell you that I don’t give a flying fuck about Big Pharma and whether or not the pharmaceutical industry is looking out for patients’ best interests.  All I know is that medication is the only thing that made me feel like a human being again.  And that is certainly NOT a hoax.

Then they want to know when you’re getting OFF the medication.  Even doctors will sneak it in, mentioning tapering off as soon as they think they can get away with it.  Forgive me, doctor, but I’m doing so well on medication.  Ever heard the saying “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”?  Well, I implore you, please don’t try to fix me, because I don’t need fixing.  I am happy on medication.  Happier than I was when I wasn’t on medication.  Why, then, do you seem to want to deny me my happiness?

If I need a little white pill to be stable, so what?  If it’s a crutch for me, so what?  It enhances my quality of life, just like my real, physical crutches do.  Would you rather I was curled up in a ball sobbing all the time, like I was before the medication?  That doesn’t bode well for taxpayers.  With medication, I can go out and be a productive member of society.  Isn’t that what society wants from me, and for that matter, everyone else?

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why I’m wary of disclosing that I’m on psychiatric medication.


Alicia said...

Interesting, that's the complete opposite of my experience and the people I know, in my experience (bio)psychiatry is so powerful that I was forced on medication, without informed consent or anything, medication traumatized me and it was abusive, every doctor, therapist, family member or stranger I talk to wants me to use psychiatric medication, doctors refuse to treat me for physical problems if I refuse psychiatric medication, society wants a 'quick fix' and thinks meds are the way, no one believed me when I said medication was terrible and I needed to stop. I have to fight doctors and therapists to have the basic right of having my mind working. I'm considered a bad crazy patient, there is a lot of stigma in having a psychiatric disability and not taking meds. Counselling was not helpful for me but at least I could still think. That's my experience.

I think the alternatives of using drugs or therapy should be the complete choice of the user, full information and consent should be given, people need to know their choices, saying drugs exist, how they work or don't work, talking about the possible good side and the possible risks and making them available for the person to choose is extremely important, just as it's important to give the choice of not taking them and offering therapy. Sadly I only know people that are not being given choices and acceptance.

If meds help you live better, people need to respect that, the only thing that's important is that you feel better and people let you choose what the hell you want and need to do.

That's why I refuse to generalize my opinion about this like some do, it would be easy to say meds are evil, for me psychiatric medication was hell but for you it helps a lot, everyone is different, the only important point is to give informed choices and end the stigma faced by people having any kind of mental health problems. People just love judging everything.

I hope people are more accepting of your choices about this.

Sorry if I'm not very eloquent in this comment, I always have a strong emotional response about psy meds and have a hard time writing.

Mari said...

I was seventeen and therefore unable to consent when I went on medication. While I quibble about the circumstances, the result has been ten years of life I otherwise might not have lived.

Therapy didn't work on the panic disorder. It still hasn't worked. But when we control for the brain chemistry behind the panic attacks, my team and I can give me back some quality of life -- it's not just huddling in my room, wide-eyed, constantly nauseated, afraid to try anything but naps and a bit of gaming. Given ten years of trying to trick my head into doing what it ought, I don't think year eleven will be the one!

I have fired so many doctors over the years. I have done it because it IS my brain and my body, and thus my choice. I am working with someone who supports my scientific approach to my problem, and we're inching me away from disability. He likes me to think. Believe it or not, I've had therapists who would rather I didn't think, that I just obeyed. There's stigma in being a scientist, an advocate, a person over a patient.

I would say rather that society likes to erase us by any means possible. It can't cope with us, so no matter what the means, we will be hammered down like the stick-up nails we are. I've had it from the drugs camp and the therapy camp alike: too vocal! Too smart about who you are! Shut up and quit pretending you know anything, without any degrees to prove it.

I don't like any trend that keeps us from being people.

The Inside Job said...

Well said! Isn't that the beginning and the end of this concern? We are all people whatever the disability, and almost all capable of indicating choices; choices that allow us to feel more like, and be fulfilled by our contributions and dignity as PEOPLE!

Anonymous said...

I am *so glad* that you found what works for you, even when it was made challenging to do so!

I personally have very mixed feelings about psychiatric medication, different forms of therapy, the DSM in all its iterations, and the entire process of othering people whose brains don't work optimally for them.

I've had times in my life when medication was (literally) forced on me in spite of being a bit experimental and not approved for the "condition" I "had" at the time, but I've also had times in my life when nothing I could do would get me therapy or drugs. The consistent thing has been a lack of respect - so remember, no matter what other people are pushing you toward or away from, it's the lack of respect that gets you.