Necessity

There’s a couple of lines of thought that we usually hear when it comes to mental illness in our country. One is the old “it’s all in your head” line. Which is kind of dumb, because that’s what ‘mental’ means. I know the implication is that you’re making it up, which frustrates me because it handwaves away all the struggles and suffering that people with mental illnesses–such as myself–have to deal with. People tend to think of depression as being ‘kind of down’, which really misses just how bad a disease it is. Depression is losing interest in everything in life because you just don’t see the point anymore. Happiness is a myth and striving for it just makes you feel worse when you inevitably fail.

The other line has to do with treatment for mental illness, particularly medication. This would be the “just snap out of it” mentality. Mention you’re on psychiatric medication in the wrong place and you’re likely to get flooded with ‘lifestyle’ advice on how to make do without medication. I don’t want to disregard such advice as being useless, but the people who insist that you make do without medication are basically saying, “you don’t really need to be on those pills if you just try hard enough.” Which to a certain extent is probably true.

What the people who give such advice are missing is that mediation helps a lot of people. Maybe those of us who rely on it can make do without it, but it would be harder. And that’s effort that could be better put to use elsewhere doing things like, I dunno, living. By which I don’t mean the physical act of living, but the things we do that make life worth living. Even on medication, there are things you can do to help yourself feeling even better. Having depression, a common piece of advice is to keep active (not necessarily physically–a therapist actually told me to keep playing video games once). And I’d be lying if I said it didn’t help. But it would be a lot harder to follow that advice without medication. At one point I was spending most of my day in bed because I had so little interest in anything. The mental effort it took to do anything was immense. It is still difficult at times, but a whole lot easier than it was before I was started taking medication.

The ideas I outlined above are very harmful to people who are already suffering. It pushes us away from seeking treatment. They push us away from the tools we need to be able to function as people. They push us towards throwing boatloads of energy into climbing out of a hole with our bare hands when instead we could have a ladder.

Could I ‘make do’ if I decided to stop taking anti-depressants? Probably. Strictly speaking, medication isn’t a necessity for me. But it has been an enormous benefit to me, and asking me to do without when it is available to me is asking me to make life needlessly difficult for myself.

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