“But you’ll get addicted”
“If you feel better, stop taking them”
“You don’t need pills, you need to go out more”
Not really, mom.
The stigma around mental health issues is incredibly, painfully real. Worse still, is the stigma around the treatments for them. Therapy and medication are intensely taboo topics; bringing conversations to a screeching halt at a mere mention, whispered about behind scandalised, gossiping hands.
A matter of shame.
In 2020, 43% of Indians found themselves displaying symptoms of depression or Major Depressive Disorder. I am one of them. In August 2020, I couldn’t get out of bed, couldn’t eat, couldn’t do much except mindlessly scrolling through Instagram. I stopped taking care of myself, stopped talking to my friends; wrapped myself tightly in a thick blanket of overwhelming apathy.
The signs were clear, and fortunately, I recognised some of them. I spoke to a psychiatrist, who confirmed my fears, and recommended that I start taking antidepressants.
When I spoke to my mother about considering medication, it wasn’t pleasant. She told me that my only problem was that I wasn’t keeping myself busy enough. Everyone has bad days, everyone goes through it, you just have to keep going. At that moment, it would have been so easy to believe her.
I refused to.
After careful consideration and research, I started taking antidepressants, on a trial basis. In a few days, I felt a little better, just enough to get out of bed. With a little more effort, I was able to study a little; more than anything I had managed to do for the last few months. I wasn’t totally miserable after a long, long time.
Gradually, things started looking up.
My mother, having recovered from her initial shock, grudgingly accepted my little experiment. But for every week that I continued the medicine, the more worried she became. The more comfortable I got with it, the more she would fret. Even though they were prescribed by a doctor, even though the both of us had done extensive research, even though I was taking a very low dose, she struggled to let go of her irrational fear.
The stigma attached to taking medications for mental disorders, for very real illnesses, is dangerous. It prevents people from helping themselves through incredibly difficult situations, distances them from the possibility of improvement and recovery, leaving them feeling more isolated than they already might have.
Today, should someone find themselves suffering from depression, they don’t have many options. Either suffer silently, or reach out, get help, and face cold judgement from those around them.
While my mother did eventually come around to the idea of antidepressants as just medicines, helping me feel better, letting me be myself again, I know I got lucky. That I was able to even consider this decision, is a symbol of my privilege. A privilege that many can’t afford, especially in India.
Antidepressants are no villain to be antagonised and fought at every step. They are medicines taken to treat what till just a few decades ago, seemed untreatable.
To condemn the life-saving worth of antidepressants, to deny those in need, only makes the struggle lonelier, harsher, and irrevocably fatal.
Written by Saher Kalra for MTTN
Edited by Mihika Antonia Dean for MTTN
Featured Image by freepik.com
Artwork by freepik.com