Medicated (And Unmedicated) Women Are Talking

I think a crucial step in decreasing the stigma surrounding mental illness is talking about it openly. And it seems readers want to talk.

My post, "The Medicated Woman: A Pill To Feel Better, Not Squelch Feelings," on mental health and medication, was shared on Facebook more than 15,000 times and now has over 200 comments, so I thought it was worth a follow-up.

One thing readers wanted to discuss is the safety of antidepressants during pregnancy, a complicated topic which has been covered here and here on CommonHealth. Safety studies are mixed in many cases so women should consult their doctors. Here's what it says on the Mayo Clinic website:

A decision to use antidepressants during pregnancy is based on the balance between risks and benefits. Overall, the risk of birth defects and other problems for babies of mothers who take antidepressants during pregnancy is very low. Still, few medications have been proved safe without question during pregnancy, and some types of antidepressants have been associated with health problems in babies.

Other comments underscored that stigma still exists but may be slowly diminishing.

(Flickr Creative Commons)
(Flickr Creative Commons)

Jackie wrote: “It took me until I was in my 50's to accept that medication wasn't the 'weak"' way. I now see how much I lost and am living through a tremendously stressful life without those urges to accelerate into other cars or cement walls.”

"It's in our family, but I was the first to seek help, and was probably the worst off. It was a secret that my grandfather had committed suicide,” wrote lilycarol.

And here's a comment from helentroy4: “My mother was much like me. But to her dying day she never acknowledged that her behaviors were anything but 'perfect mothering.’ I think had she been able to take advantage of this medication (or others of its kind), she would have been able to have the calming of her heart and soul that I have been blessed to have.”

There were many who suggested that lifestyle changes, including more exercise and sleep, meditation or yoga might be safer and more beneficial than medication.

I couldn’t agree more. But some thoughtful commenters responded with reminders that those things are difficult to accomplish in the throes of depression and anxiety.

Jennifer said it best when she wrote, “Pills won't 'fix' someone without lifestyle changes and self-examination. However, while some people can pick themselves up out of a depressive episode with just good self-care, maybe because they have the resources to do so, other people need aid to even get to that point. We need to remember that everyone is different.”

I wrote my article in response to the idea that women in particular are having their gender-specific feelings medicated away. But some comments from men reminded me that depression and anxiety show no gender bias.

Diogenes wrote, “Despite many discussions with doctors these past 10+ years, the expectation for men is vastly different. We are somehow expected to cope without medication.”

I am so glad to have sparked this conversation. Whether or not you believe that medication is the answer, an answer, or no answer, the important thing is that we keep talking about it and keep asking for help, wherever we can get it.

Alicair Peltonen is a part-time administrative assistant at the Harvard School of Public Health and a journalism student at the Harvard Extension School.


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