I feel like this is one of my most important drawings.
I wrote a bit on instagram about this drawing, but thought I would extend it a bit on my blog. I really struggle to write so bear with me!
What is pill shaming?
For me I think it is people thinking that if you 'work hard enough' you don't need medication for mental health problems. But also not only mental health problems, but other invisible conditions which mean individuals need pain medication or sleeping pills. I feel like this makes you feel like you haven't tried to be better and to be more 'well'. This doesn't help and only leads to people feeling like they have to hide taking medication, and internalizing that mental health problems are your fault, through being lazy, fat, 'unhealthy', and not exercising enough. This kind of behavior and thinking also promotes the idea that mental health problems can be changed from within. Whilst this might be true for some people, it totally ignores outside structures which impact on mental health (check out the Un-Recovery star) like racism, homophobia, trauma, poverty and unstable housing. I really think that by telling someone to be 'healthier' and cut down or stop medication or just making them feel bad and at the same time ignoring the bigger picture when it comes to mental health and chronic illness is pretty shitty behavior. Bordering on abusive.
A bit about my story:
I don't talk directly about my own health and mental health in depth much online because I'm quite a private person. But here we go. I have had mental health problems on and off over the years and have tried quite a few different medications before finding one that works. I also have endometriosis which has cause quite a lot of pain and made me quite ill.
I found a medication for my mental health which helps. I remember talking to a mental health colleague and telling her that I take a medication which helps me. She said "those pills scare me, I mean, just have a healthy diet, cut out gluten and refined sugars." I was so shocked I couldn't actually say anything. Normally I am quite direct about my opinions but I felt like I wanted to cry because I actually eat a fairly healthy diet (by that I mean I am veggie and I eat three meals a day, eat carbs, protein and veggies which works for me but may not for others) and I have tried so hard. But why do I 'try hard'? I feel like I am always trying hard. Mental health and pain medication is the only medical treatment you are told to try hard not to be on.
I have also not taken medication at times because I worried about poisoning my body with something which isn't natural. Which leads me onto people who believe that 'natural' remedies are a good idea for everyone. They can be for some people, but some people actually need medication for their brains to function.
I have been to events organized by certain anti psychiatry organizations where people have talked about how awful medication is. This is also so dangerous, this also fed into me thinking that I don't need to take medication. It might be fine for them, but promoting a 'psychiatry is evil' is also very dangerous. I could criticize psychiatry all day but at the end of the day, some people need the medical treatment.
I have endometriosis. Up until I had my first surgery 4 years ago and had treatment to stop my periods, I was in awful pain. When I was 28 I was on mefanamic acid, tranexamic acid and tramadol for 'period pain' and that only slightly helped. I had to take it otherwise I couldn't work. I had severe pain*, which was caused by internal bleeding from endometriosis. Some of my organs were stuck together too, eg my ovary was fused to my bowel. I also have endometriosis in places in my body which is untreatable due to the physical area. Tramadol is controversial and I was lucky that I had a doctor who would prescribe it. (Side note, tramadol is can be toxic with certain SSRIs and anti-psychotics). Pain is invisible most of the time to other people, so no one should question anyone elses need. (Be careful with opiates as they can be physically addictive and then you need more to get the same pain relief.)
Pill shaming in bullet points:
- it's ok to take medication for mental health problems
- it's ok to take medication for mental health problems LONG TERM
- it's ok to take medication for mental health problems long term WITH NO PLAN TO STOP
- please don't insinuate that you can reduce medication by having a 'healthy' diet (whatever that is) or by doing exercise
- please don't emphasize the side effects and risks of psychiatric medication
- don't ask someone when they will cut down
- don't say "well if you loose weight / gain weight you could come off it"
- don't persuade people to cut down or stop medication. This includes the anti-psychiatry movement.
- family members; support your loved one!
- healthcare professionals; learn about mental health and pain medication. Work side by side and don't make people feel crap about being on medication.
Pill shaming badges can be found here: etsy
* funny story, I compare all pain to my experience of period pain. In 2012 I got a sewing needle stuck in the heel of my foot. The pain was not as bad as a period pain so I went out dancing on it until 3am. I went to hospital 2 days later and had to have surgery to have it removed!