Archives for Stigma
Young people spend too long on antidepressants without examining whether they still need them, a Duke psychiatrist argued in a recent New York Times post. The psychiatrist, Doris Iarovici, is almost certainly right that more young adults are taking these meds for longer these days than in the past. The problem is that we don't have a very good idea of how many - or for how long. As a result, it's hard to know how much concern is justified.
Most psychiatric drugs bear some version of the warning: "Do not drink alcoholic beverages when taking this medication." In reality, though, many people taking psych meds drink anyway. They have various reasons: not wanting to curtail their fun, not putting much stock in the warnings, or simply thinking it's easier to take a proffered drink than explain why they're turning it down. Doctors oftentimes don't bother to talk to patients about potential dangers. Or they tell patients not to drink, but don't explain why. To make matters worse, because of a lack of studies on the subject, patients inclined to do their own research will have a hard time just how risky it is to drink while taking various kinds of psychiatric medications (I've written elsewhere about this troubling lack of evidence). A widely publicized study that came out last month in the journal Neurology underscores the problem. The findings, which pooled data from 16 studies, showed that people taking SSRI antidepressants like Zoloft or Celexa were 40 percent more likely to suffer a type of stroke caused by bleeding in the brain and 50 percent more likely to suffer any bleeding in the skull.
What's it like to suffer from severe depression for as long as you can remember - and to be too scared to ask for help until age 18? Today I’m featuring the story of Allie, a 21-year-old college senior in Wisconsin who was ultimately diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Allie kept her unhappiness a secret and didn't begin taking medication when she was old enough to ask for it without her parents finding out. Allie's story is interesting, because it shows how kids can suffer from severe depression from a very young age. It also shows how in a culture where psychiatric drugs seem ubiquitous kids can come to focus on medication as a source of salvation.
People who take psychiatric medications long-term are no strangers to stigma, or the threat of it. We perennially face, for example, the question of whether it's worth risking others' judgment and the potential negative repercussions of disclosing our conditions -- and the fact that we take medication for them. But you can commit to taking medications long-term and still perpetuate or further the stigma associated with meds. And I don't just mean that in the sense of keeping your medication regimen secret. Most of us do so in another way altogether that we're largely unaware of. The fact is, most people have some kind of internal barometer when it comes to medications - which ones they are willing to take, and which ones they're not.