I’m concerned about the medicalisation of life; over-prescribing and how sometimes normal difficult emotions are (mis)diagnosed as an illness requiring medication. I expressed this view on twitter and said how I think Dr Joanna Moncrieff does make some valid points. Immediately I was accused of pill shaming, lack of empathy and insulting people who suffer from real deep depression.
Here is the article in the Telegraph which triggered the twitter responses to me after the psychiatrist Dr Alex Langford had put up a link to a similar article – his blog about this topic is here. The media is often insensitive in its choice of language. I can see why ‘happy pills’ would annoy some people. This wasn’t my choice of words so I won’t try to defend a phrase I don’t use. ‘Happy Pills’ or ‘antidepressants? Call them what you will. They didn’t make me happy and they increased my depression. But adopting a critical approach to psychiatric medication does not automatically amount to criticising those who take pills. Isn’t the valid point being made in the Telegraph articles that there is over-prescribing, and sometimes the (mis)diagnosing of human experience for a ‘depressive illness’? The increase in prescriptions for depression gives rise to genuine concern and I think Joanna Moncrieff is right to point this out. I struggle to see how expressing my agreement with this makes me a pill shamer.
So what does pill shaming mean? ‘Pill shamers’, I am told, don’t understand what ‘real’ depression is and think it’s just a sad mood that can easily lift. But I do know, only too well, that suffering and despair is very real. It can be a devastating, gut-wrenching experience whether it’s a normal reaction (as in the normal grief process, to use just one example) or goes beyond our perception of what is ‘normal’. Pill shaming, I am told, means demeaning people who seek help and take pills for depression. Shaming and demeaning anyone for taking pills is something I would never do. (After all, I took pills, for depression and heaven knows what else, for five years). Maybe meds helps some people and not others. There is no shame in taking them or in not taking them (though hopefully both through informed decisions). But let’s not forget, too, that people choosing to come off pills are often told they’re ‘ill’ and have long been made to feel they are doing something wrong, dangerous or shameful in making that choice. More support and understanding is needed for people who do want to try a no meds approach.
I would have liked to engage in constructive debate about this important topic but found I couldn’t get beyond trying to defend my views against the strongly felt accusations of pill shaming. This has happened to others before, and often it silences people and hinders much needed discussion, as expressed in this blog here. I’m aware that speaking out against the use of medication and the medical model in psychiatry upsets and angers a lot of people, not only some psychiatrists but people undergoing psychiatric treatment. It is the latter group with whom I empathise and I hope I do always remain sensitive to their feelings in the ways in which I express my views. But I MUST speak out. People have been, and are being, harmed by the medicalisation of their problems. A rigid application of the medical model almost destroyed me. I’m not antipsychiatry, I’m anti-bullshit – and psychiatry did throw a lot of that at me.