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How One Woman Is Fighting The Stigma Of Mental Health Meds

CREDIT: COURTESY OF ERIN JONES/MUTHA’ LUVIN AUTISM
CREDIT: COURTESY OF ERIN JONES/MUTHA’ LUVIN AUTISM

After a brief hiatus from her anti-anxiety and antidepressant medication, blogger Erin Jones, on the brink of a mental breakdown, restarted her regimen last month. This time, she posted a selfie in which she’s holding up her prescriptions to Facebook.

Jones’ act of courage inspired the use of the #MedicatedAndMighty hashtag on Twitter and Facebook. Other people grappling with mental illness followed her lead, uploading similar photos and revealing their stories of seeking professional help as part of an effort to destigmatize mental health treatment.

“I have tried living this life without prescription help,” Jones wrote in her Facebook post. “It seems to have me on top of the world one minute and rocking in the corner the next. There is no consistency. I’m done with that. Anxiety and antidepressant medication to the rescue. Sometimes, folks, we just need help.”

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More than 10 percent of Americans take antidepressants, and nearly twice as many people use anti-anxiety medication, according to data compiled by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

While medications don’t cure mental illness, they do help treat symptoms and ease the transition into psychotherapy, peer programs, and rehabilitative services. Types of treatment include antipsychotics

, antidepressants, mood stabilizers, and stimulants, each designed to reduce unwanted thoughts and melancholic feelings — often related to substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, and other ailments. Prescription medication can take between several days to several weeks to work. Once the mental disorder is stabilized, treatment can continue as long as necessary.

Despite those benefits, some stigma surrounds prescription mental health medication, partly because of its potential side effects. Patients often report experiencing low blood pressure, shakes and twitches, blurred vision, drowsiness, and confusion. Doctors say concerns about adverse reactions to medication often preclude those dealing with a mental illness from following their routine. When that appears to be the case, they may get the timing and dosage of their prescription adjusted.

More broadly, it can be difficult for people to talk publicly about their struggles with mental health. An estimated two-thirds of all people with a mental illness don’t get treatment partly because of their “fear of disclosure, rejection of friends, and discrimination,” according to the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill.

Anxiety and antidepressant medication to the rescue. Sometimes, folks, we just need help.

There have recently been other examples of high-profile efforts to combat the stigma surrounding mental health. Jones’ social media campaign follows Project Semicolon, a movement to give hope to those struggling with mental illness that’s led to people getting semicolon tattoos to help spark more conversation about these issues. In recent years, celebrities have also opened up about their bouts with depression and bipolar disorder, putting a personal face to the issue.

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However, there’s some worry among mental health advocates that patients are overmedicated. In South Carolina, child welfare advocates alleged that foster children ingested psychotropic medication at a rate two to three times higher than their counterparts while under state supervision. In a class-action lawsuit, the group said the medication served as panacea for deep-seated mental health issues rather than an effective solution.

Looking beyond the South Carolina case, opponents of prescription medication also cite what they describe as the pharmaceutical industry’s stranglehold on the doctors that generates a revenue of $329 billion annually. The inaugural data set of the Open Payments online database, a tool of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, revealed payments to more than 500,000 physicians totaling $3.5 billion for speaking fees, consulting feeds, and stake ownership in prescription medicine brands between August and December 2013.

The intricacies of Big Pharma’s relationship with the medical profession notwithstanding, people on both sides of the prescription medication debate have found some middle ground. Earlier this year, University of Pittsburgh professor Dr. Greg Siegle told ThinkProgress about “cognitive control therapy,” a type of healing treatment that combines the use of antidepressants, psychotherapy, and exercises that strengthen the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex — the part of the brain that controls executive function, working memory, and cognitive flexibility. This method allows for some use of antidepressants, but not in isolation.

However, Siegle advised against forgoing professional health care altogether. “Even if we do make it available, I am not recommending that people stop seeing their therapist or stop taking their medication to take this program,” he said.