Today I noticed a headline on a science website that had the headline “Which Countries Consume the Most Antidepressants?” This was combined with a photograph that showed a bowl with a spoon filled with milk and multi-colored pills.
There are other headlines to behold that I’ve noticed in the past, such as “Prozac Nation” and “10 per cent of Americans are prescribed antidepressants.”
If such headlines and the accompanying articles were merely designed as informative, then it would not be something that I would find in the least annoying. However, there seems always an underlying sentiment—also expressed in any discussions of ADHD or ADD—that somehow all this medication for a mental health issue is misguided and wrong: that all these people popping pills need to just buck up and get on with their lives instead of medicating themselves.
This attitude is part of the ongoing problem: the stigmatizing of mental illness.
One is unlikely to find headlines or articles criticizing the number of people being given the flu shot each year, unless it is to suggest that more need to get it in order to reduce the incidence of influenza. Nor is there tongue wagging against all the broken bones that need to be mended, nor the number of aspirin taken for headaches, nor the percentage of Americans on high blood pressure medication. No one is critical of how many people need chemo or radiation treatment for cancer, or how awful that people should be dependent upon dialysis or how weak they might be that they needed to get appendixes removed or take an antibiotic for an infection.
Mental illness is not a character flaw. It is an illness, a physical illness in the physical organ we call the brain. That’s why medication helps. If you’re suffering depression, if you have schizophrenia, if you’re in distress from bipolar disorder, if you’re incapacitated by ADHD, or any of the many other mental illnesses that afflict people around the world, you’re not evil, you’re not weak, you’re not pretending, you’re simply sick and in need of medicine and the care of doctors specializing in ameliorating your suffering. You can't get better just by thinking happy thoughts any more than a person in a wheelchair can get over their paralysis just by trying harder.