A picture of a woman taking medication with a thought bubble that says - What Is The Mentality Behind Pill Shaming?

What Is The Mentality Behind Pill Shaming?

Although I don’t currently take medication for my mental health conditions – if you’ve read my previous post, ‘Taking Antidepressants and Being Forced To Go Cold Turkey‘ you’ll know why – doesn’t mean I don’t think pill shaming is wrong. Medication might not work for me, but that doesn’t mean others shouldn’t be allowed to take the medication they need to help them function free from pill shaming.

 

 

There are many reasons why people might stop taking medications, such as side-effects and costs (if you live in America). But the one that shouldn’t exist as a reason is pill shaming. I once refused to take an antidepressant because one of the side effects was hair loss and I loved my dreadlocks more than myself. The irony is that I’d end up permanently losing my hair due to my body image issues that caused me to pull out and damage my hair.

 

For a lot of people suffering from mental health issues, medication is the only thing allowing them to function, to hold down a job, and have a family. There should be no guilt, no shame, in taking medication in order to do that. Who do people think they’re helping by pill shaming people who need prescription medication to function better?

 

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What Is Pill Shaming?

 

What do I mean by ‘pill shaming’? Simply put, pill shaming is where someone expresses a negative view of someone taking medication to help with their mental health. I hate to admit it, I’ve had those views but I’ve never expressed them, and I had those thoughts even though I’ve struggled with suicidal thoughts since the age of eight. You’d think I would have been far more understanding.

 

Just because people are health professionals or have mental health problems themselves, it doesn’t mean they’re immune from having pill shaming views. Luckily, I never expressed these views and they were just thoughts, thoughts I outgrow as I came to understand the complexities of mental health more.

 

Societies perceptions about mental health conditions and taking medication is almost as important as our own perceptions of mental illness and taking our prescription medications. The former can cause children to develop the wrong attitudes to taking medication that might help improve their quality of life, and the latter could stop you from taking mediation that might keep you alive.

 

A picture split into two. The top part is of a pharmacy sign and the bottom half is a load of medication spilled out of a medication bottle onto an orange background. The two images are split by the title of the article - What Is The Mentality Behind Pill Shaming?

 

For example, someone who’s been diagnosed with schizophrenia is more likely to take their medications if they have insight and awareness about the need to take their medication (El-Mallakh and Findlay, 2015). So it’s not much of a stretch that being raised in an environment where mental health is better understood and taking medications for it isn’t looked down upon, will help them develop the right insight and awareness. Thus, increasing the likelihood to stick to taking a course of mental health medications for life.

 

A good example of how pill shaming can be harmful to someone was highlighted by a person talking to Healthline. The person in question goes by the name Koncilja and they said that:

 

Taking medication is a continual reminder that one has ‘something wrong’ with themselves that needs to be treated

 

Koncilja also noted the common thoughts that people have about themselves due to pill shaming and mental health stigma, saying:

 

People can often struggle with negative beliefs about themselves, thinking they are ‘less than’ if they have a mental illness or if they need medication

 

There is nothing wrong with you if you need to take medication to manage your mental health. I’m ashamed I ever thought otherwise. Life is already hard enough to survive, don’t add to that burden by not looking out for your mental health because of the stupid notion that taking prescribed medication to help is somehow wrong.

 

Further support comes from an article wrote by Sara Radin for Teen Vogue which shows how badly pill shaming views can affect people. The article talked to someone called Kiele Twarowski who shared their experience. They stated that for years they felt shame for taking medication for their mental illness, having internalised the societal shame about taking medication beforehand. 

 

I thought it was something to be quiet about and not share, so I didn’t want to take them

 

However, Kiele’s struggles with their mental health became so bad that they had no choice but to ignore the shame society had installed in them about taking medication. Abandoning this shame changed Kiele’s life for the better.

 

For the longest time I was really afraid to take medication that would ultimately end up changing and saving my life

 

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My Two Cents

 

Even though my own personal experience with medication has been one disaster after another (Taking Antidepressants and Being Forced To Go Cold Turkey), I have been wondering if it’s worth risking trying medication again to help me function better. I’ve been struggling to get by with no professional help for a long time now because the Mental Health Trust has admitted they’re unable to help me at this time, due to the complexity of my issues: I even have that in an official letter.

 

This lack of support caused a nosedive in my mental well-being over the last few years. Which resulted in a close encounter with almost trying to take my own life last summer. This situation led me to question if it’s worth the risk to try taking medication to help me because I can’t afford to get private counselling. So far, I haven’t, because the risk of the medication causing psychotic episodes frightens me. Or worse yet, I lose access to my medication again and I go through months of a continues psychotic episodeagain.

 

Pill shaming is wrong, it doesn’t help anybody, it only leads to people being ashamed of using what could be a life-changing medication for them. Medication that could make their quality of life far better, and for what, because some ignorant person wants to feel superior by making others feel bad for taking medication for their mental health? Get off your high horse and allow people to do what they need to do to live a better quality of life.

 

What does pill shaming people for taking medication for their mental health even achieve?

 

What makes people think that mental health isn’t as important as physical health problems? You wouldn’t shame someone for taking medication for diabetes, a heart condition, or for a headache, so let’s not do it to those taking medication for their mental health problems either.

 

A box of over the counter ibuprofen painkillers to reflect how we don't pill shame people for taking these kinds of medications

 

The lack of understanding around taking medication for mental health can be staggering, ranging from people comparing it to drug addiction akin to being addicted to cocaine or that you simply need to do a lot of running in a forest as a natural antidepressant. Just don’t let such views put you off doing what’s right for you, and what could give you a much-improved quality of life.

 

It doesn’t make you any less of a person to accept the assistance of medication to help you function, or even to consider taking medication as an option. It doesn’t make you weak, no matter what other people may say or think.

 

It. Doesn’t. Make. You. Weak.

 

As I’ve said, I’m not guiltless here myself. In the past, I saw taking medication as being weak, so I would live with pain rather than taking even over the counter pain killers. But I was so so very wrong and I can admit that. Over the years I’ve grown as a person and have come to understand the benefits of taking medication can have on other peoples lives. They’re not using medication to hide from dealing with their problems, as you would if you had an addiction. If I can change, so can you.

 

To those reading this who have been lucky enough not to have a mental health condition, or were lucky enough not to need medication to assist them in handling their mental health problems, I say educate yourself. Understand where people might be coming from before you offer your two cents because what you say could have a very negative effect on someone you care about.

 

An image of a pillory or stocks made of wood, which is a device made with holes for securing the head and hands of a person so they can be publicly humiliated. This image reflects society for pill shaming

 

So let’s step up and show people theirs nothing to be ashamed about if you take medication for your mental health. Let everyone know in the comments below that it’s nothing to be ashamed about and reduce the stigma of pill shaming and mental health together.

 

As always, leave your feedback in the comments section below. Also, feel free to share your experiences of medication and pill shaming in the comments section below as well. If you want to stay up-to-date with my blog, then sign up for my newsletter below. Alternatively, get push notifications of new articles by clicking the red bell icon in the bottom right corner.

 

Lastly, if you’d like to support my blog then you can make a donation of any size below also. Until next time, Unwanted Life readers.

 

 

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References

 

El-Mallakh, P., & Findlay, J. (2015). Strategies to improve medication adherence in patients with schizophrenia: the role of support services. Neuropsychiatric disease and treatment, 11, 1077–1090. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.2147/NDT.S56107 and https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4404876.

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10 thoughts on “What Is The Mentality Behind Pill Shaming?

  1. This is a great post, and I absolutely agree. Initially, I was iffy about taking any sort of medication for my depression and anxiety. But, it did help me a lot, so I’m glad I did. 4

    I think you make a great point in saying that taking medication for psychological disorders is really the same as taking medication for a physical disorder. Thanks so much for bringing more awareness to this!

  2. I’m sorry you had such a bad experience with medication. I used to be in it, and the first time had some adverse side effects but they werent unbearable, however, the second anti-depressant I was on a few years later suited me perfectly. Although I’m not on anything anymore (unless it’s a xanax to fly) but they’re always an option for me if rock bottom ever starts creeping back up. Some people are on medication for good, and that’s fine, for me it’s just a thing for when times are particularly bad.

  3. Thank you for sharing your story – glad you found your right “mix” and hope others do as well. In whatever healthy form that takes, and if that’s medically prescribed pills, that is what they are there for.

  4. I’m sorry medicine hasn’t been able to help and I’m sorry about your issues at the moment. I hope it gets better for you <3 But thank you for bringing up this topic. I've always felt some shame for being on anti-depressants, though in reality, why should I feel guilty for something that makes me feel better? Could I live without the pills? Yes. But would my life be be better without them? Hell no. It would be hell for me and everyone around me! So I'm glad I'm on medication. I can actually function in day to day life and HAVE a life now. But I have been pill shamed before: by exes and even by a therapist, of all people!

    Thanks for writing such a great post!

    Emily | https://www.thatweirdgirllife.com

    • Thank you for sharing your experience. I’m shocked that a therapist would pill shame you, that is unacceptable behaviour from a professional, and I’m sorry to hear that you’ve also had that experience with your ex’s.

      You have no reason to feel a shamed or to be shamed for taking medication that improves your quality of life

  5. Thank you for posting this. I agree, mental health is a big ussue. There is so much stigma around it, and all of it is unwarranted. The good thing is: talking about it chips away at the stigma, one step at a time. I think a lot if the haters “doth protest too much” meaning they may have underlying issues, and are putting up a smoke screen.

    I finally found medication that doesnt cause unbearable side effects. My G.P is good, and had me try out a few before I found something that worked.

    • That’s possible, I know for a lot of people that putting up the machismo front is more important than seeking help, because they don’t want to be seen as “weak”

      I’m glad you found a medication that works for you though 🙂

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