Due to the stigma which has surrounded mental health, the brain (and all of the illnesses related to it) has not yet been fully understood. At present, it is quite common to have people ‘dosed up‘ so that they could live ‘normally’. If they display further behaviours there is usually a PRN (pro re nata) medication which is available to them. This is, at present, the only way and the best way to deal with severe mental health disorders, and until a better and deeper understanding of mental health and the brain is accomplished, this may remain the only way to deal with people who are suffering with mental health disorders. It’s a shame that there isn’t further understanding of mental health and how to cope with it; which is on the up and rise in the contemporary society, and hopefully will continue.
There are however those who suffer with a less mild mental health illness. For example mild anxiety disorders, where medication can be used alongside a form of psychotherapy or counselling. I myself have been in this situation, whereby I was diagnosed with low mood and mild depression. I undertook counselling which I found extremely useful. However, I also found it useful to have a low dose of an antidepressant to help elevate my mood. This helped as the medication brought my baseline mood up to a more satisfying level, and I felt I was therefore able to fully involve myself in the counselling sessions. By doing this, I was signed off my counselling early. Due to the dosage and recommendations of the doctor I remained on the medication for a few months after counselling. However, I do understand that everyone is different and the timescale will vary with everyone.
What I found interesting during my time on medication and counselling, and dealing with the low mood and depression, was when I mentioned I was on medication to others their approach towards me appeared to change. What I mean by this is that people would ‘take a step back’ away from me. However, mentioning I was undergoing counselling appeared to have the opposite effect, people would be intrigued and asked about what I was doing, and how I was doing. Which I saw as unusual as I was undergoing counselling for the same reasons as taking the medication. The medication in effect gave me the extra help I needed in the counselling sessions.
This stigma, or stereotype towards antidepressants and antipsychotics, I feel relates back to what I said in the beginning. The general public’s view towards people on medication is that they should be ‘locked away in mental asylum’. When this is not normally the case, as with me using medication to stabilise my mood is a great way to deal with low mood, depression and other mild mental health illnesses. I do however understand this may not be the case for everyone; others require medication for long-term periods. But again, I have found from personal experience those I know that are on antidepressants or mood elevators, are very reluctant to tell people what medication they are taking – it’s as if they are ashamed to say what they are taking. Whereas someone with asthma is not ashamed to say they require an inhaler, there is still the courage needed to admit someone is on medication, as they may feel it’s a weakness of themselves. But that there is nowhere near the amount of stigma of people who are on antidepressant get to experience.
On the same vein, if someone has to take blood pressure medication, or diabetes medication, they appear to be more willing and open to talk about their medication and the reasons for taking it.
Due to the stigma and the ‘label’ people are given who take antidepressants, and other similar medications, they are less likely to discuss this, or the reasons behind it. I felt the same at times, people would judge me, see me differently, turn their heads away from me. It isn’t the people we should blame as individuals, it’s the society which we have been brought up in.
Mental health hospitals, secure hospitals: they are still referred to by some as mental asylums where they ‘lock the lunatics up’. As matter of fact, people are in these institutions because of a mental health issues, which they have found hard to cope with, and their families have found hard to cope with. It is common for people to leave a mental health hospital, rehabilitated and ready to be introduced back into society. It is society which are not acceptance of them when they are ready, and this is why they feel socially rejected.
The stigma which has come from Victorian ‘asylums’ and ‘locking the lunatics up’ and putting a ‘straight jacket’ on them, has sadly been carried into this day and age. This is why I say we cannot blame the individuals for their stereotype of people with mental illnesses but the society with in which we live in. I will however say that there is greater coverage of mental health but people still don’t fully accept it yet in society.
Dale Burden is a correspondent for Psychreg. He holds a dual honours degree in Psychology and Neuroscience from Keele University.