Why I’m Not Ashamed to Take Antidepressants

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Why I’m Not Ashamed to Take Antidepressants

By Sarah Govis

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I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety the summer I went into junior year. The diagnosis had been a long time coming — I had known that something wasn’t quite right with me for the past two years, and I had been attending therapy the whole time.

Sophomore year had been undeniably the worst year of my life. I lost almost all of my friends due to my mental illness, my grades plummeted, and I was always sad no matter what I did.

I was talking regularly to the social workers at school. If something was actually wrong with me, they’d talk to my parents and me, and I’d get the help I needed.

But that’s where so many of the problems stemmed from. I didn’t know how much more help I could get. I talked to a therapist once a week and a social worker once a week. What could I really do beyond that? Talk to them twice a week? Our health classes stressed emotional support for mental illness.

Part of the reason it was stressed, I think, is because the social workers and clinical psychologists do not have the capacity to prescribe medication. Principal and clinical psychologist Jason Ness explained that it’s beyond the scope of his or any school professional’s practice.

“[Medication] always should be really carefully considered with your family, looking at yourself, along with a psychiatrist who can monitor medication and go through an interview, typically before medication is even prescribed,” Ness said.

It got to a point where I wasn’t really sure what to do. I wanted to feel better, but all my attempts were fruitless. I was talking to people, trying to exercise, pushing myself to try to be a happier person, but I just couldn’t do it. And it hurt — everyone around me seemed to be having fun and living their lives, while I was suffering silently.

And that’s what makes me really angry. It didn’t matter how much I talked or yelled or cried. I didn’t need to talk; all I did was talk. I would go to therapy every Monday evening and whine about how awful I felt on a daily basis, and then I would go to student services every Tuesday morning during second period and talk about how I was sad. My social worker would nod and offer me candy for 42 minutes.

We need to teach kids that therapy isn’t the only option for treating mental illness. That’s not to say that everyone has to be medicated, though. Some people can be just fine with therapy, but therapy is not a one-size-fits-all deal. It’s not going to fix everyone. Therapy is not a solution for a mental illness any more than a doctor’s visit is a solution for diabetes. 

School social workers’ strengths lie in talk therapy and addressing short-term concerns in school.

“[School social workers] are focusing more on the interventions that students can use in day-to-day functioning in the classroom, such as how to monitor and how to be more self-aware. I think they’re probably much more comfortable doing that,” Ness said.

Diabetics need insulin. I needed selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, but I didn’t know that antidepressants were an option for a 15 year old. I was under the impression that only adults could take antidepressants because I had never been taught any differently.

When medication was discussed in health class, it was portrayed as a last resort. Medication was scary. Medication was bad. Medication would turn you into a zombie, and there was no going back. The implication was that you should be ashamed if you had to resort to medication — and, unfortunately, several of my peers believed this sentiment. After I told a couple of my friends that I was on medication, I was told that my body worked the way it was supposed to work, and I didn’t need medication. Other people told me that they didn’t “believe” in medication and even brought religion into it. I was told it would cause me to take my own life. 

Health classes stressed talk therapy, being around friends, and having conversations with trusted adults as ways to address mental illness. Ness believes that medication should be discussed, although he understands why the social workers typically leave the topic untouched.

“Maybe [teachers] don’t feel that they have the knowledge to really speak to it in depth. I do think it should be mentioned because I’ve seen medication work. Given the right treatment plan, psychiatrist, and family support around them, people can function and react very positively to medication,” Ness said.

Medication isn’t scary, and it isn’t bad. If you don’t shame diabetics for taking insulin, you shouldn’t be shaming people for taking antidepressants. Just because the disorder isn’t visible doesn’t make it any less valid or real.

Taking medication was a necessity for me, and being medicated after being hopelessly depressed for two years changed everything for me. I realized that I didn’t need to cry every night. Of course I could still cry, the amount of crying was just regulated. I remembered how to walk into Niles West without having an anxiety attack. I still had anxiety attacks, but they were twice a month, not twice a week. I remembered how to have fun at school — I could smile and crack jokes with the new friends I’d made. I learned how to be happy again.

In all honesty, I didn’t expect to make it this far in my life. I had lost the ability to construct a future because of my mental illness. But after a few weeks, I wanted a future. I wanted to graduate from high school and go to college, and even get a job. I could see my life beyond just the week ahead of me.

There is nothing wrong with taking medication, and you are not less of a person for being medicated. Pat yourself on the back for taking the steps needed to get to that point. It’s not easy to gather up the courage to meet with a psychiatrist and take medication, especially if you don’t know anyone else who has taken those steps — I was lucky enough to have a friend who’d already covered all the steps, and all I had to do was follow her lead. Anyone who disagrees with your decision is not someone you need to keep in your life. It’s your life, your body, and you don’t need anyone’s permission to do what’s best for you.

However, I do want to make something very clear: I’m not saying you should be self-medicating (such as using drugs or alcohol to cope) or ignoring mental health professionals. I believe that medication is a necessity for some people, but my opinion isn’t the only one you should pay attention to; I’m not a psychiatrist. If a psychiatrist or other mental health professional believes that medication might help, you shouldn’t feel bad about that. Undoubtedly, there will be people who don’t like your decision and will try to sway your opinion, but unless they have an MD, what they say should not have an impact on your choices.