Close to 18 percent of adults living in the states suffer from anxiety disorders and yet the stigmas associated with this mental health disorder and taking meds to treat it still hasn’t gone away. When Chrissy Teigen opened up in Marie Claire’s July 2017 cover story about how she takes prescription meds to manage her anxiety disorder, the world paused for a sec. We’re used to Teigen’s unfiltered speech but it’s not every day you see a celeb (or anyone for that matter) get real about how it’s actually okay to takes psychiatric meds.
“Every step I take feels a little shaky,” she said. “It’s such a weird feeling that you wouldn’t know unless you have really bad anxiety … you feel like everyone is looking at you.” It’s admirable but also important that Teigen got honest about taking medication for her mood disorder because there’s still WAY too much taboo around it, mainly because people aren’t as educated and informed about it as they might think they are. Gina Rodriguez also recently spoke up about her anxiety disorder and got ALL the love for being so open.
Still, anxiety isn’t fully understood by everyone. Feeling anxious or having an anxious moment like right before a job interview or Tinder date, isn’t the same as suffering from anxiety disorder.
“Anxiety disorders are a group of mental illnesses in which the fear and worry are more than temporary responses to an event or situation,” says psychiatrist and associate professor of psychiatry at New York University, Dr. Veronica M. Rojas. “It persists and interferes with your daily functioning.”
Examples of anxiety disorders range from generalized anxiety, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, separation anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, agoraphobia, obsessive compulsive disorder, and even phobias.
Most of us know by now that there are plenty of ways to treat mental disorders that don’t necessarily include medication. Especially in today’s age of self-care, self-love, and holistic living, there’s every option available to you from acupuncture, meditation, Chinese herbal medicine, yoga, psychotherapy, hypnotherapy – even crystal light therapy! And for those who are on a tighter budget, there’s even anti-anxiety and self-hypnosis apps. The list goes on.
Sure, it’s great to have so many of these resources at your disposal. But it’s also more than fine to need and want to treat your psychiatric disorder with medication. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the first resort, in fact it probably shouldn’t be.
“Therapy is the first line to consider,” says Dr. Rojas. “Many start with talk therapy in which a patient learns to understand the signs and symptoms of anxiety. Another modality used as well is cognitive behavioral therapy, in which anxious patients are taught to try different ways of thinking, behaving, and reacting to anxious situations. That also includes exposure therapy combined with relaxation techniques.” But that’s not enough for every patient.
“When a patient has tried these modalities and the anxiety remains or any of these modalities cannot be practiced due to the level of anxiety, medication is indicated,” Dr. Rojas adds.
There’s a very harmful misconception that taking meds to treat mental illness makes a person “crazy” or “weak.” It’s gotten so out of hand that patients who actually need meds don’t. Blogger Erin Jones was on the brink of a mental breakdown when she realized she actually needed to take her meds again to get right. She even started the hashtag #MedicatedandMighty to let folks know it’s perfectly healthy to seek professional help as part of an effort to destigmatize mental health treatment.
“The stigmatization of mental illness and medication is mostly due to inaccurate information, lack of education about mental illness, and a great sense of prejudice among society about taking medications and mental illness,” says Rojas. “There are constant derogatory comments [made] when someone is on medication or a psychiatric disorder is confirmed.”
This would explain why people are often so afraid and hesitant to get on prescription drugs or even see a therapist.
“People are afraid of being called ‘weak’ thinking that anxiety or a mental illness is a matter of ‘being tough.’ Moreover, people are also terrified of being seen or called ‘crazy,’” Rojas added. “There is a lot of shame and fear about what people might think of them and as a consequence, people tend to keep this a secret from others.”
This is where change can come in. As a society, we need to make space to create these dialogues and show our loved ones who may suffer from anxiety disorders or other mental illnesses, that it’s okay to seek a therapist or to get on medication and we aren’t going to judge them or look at them differently for it. Natural holistic treatments are all good but may not give them the results they need.
“There is a misconception [of this] fear of getting ‘addicted to the medications’ and having the false belief that herbs and natural substances from a store are better because their labeled as ‘natural and organic,'” said Rojas. “None of those substances have had research that would guarantee the results promised on their labels. In addition, these substances are not FDA-approved and cause more damage than help or relief.”
These conversations are part of what’s necessary in helping break down stigmas associated with mental illness and busting misconceptions. It’s stigmas like these that can prevent someone from seeking the help they actually need. In some cases it can cost someone their life.
“Chronic mental illnesses left untreated have severe consequences,” Rojas shared. “When untreated, anxious patients tend to stop functioning at work and/or academically, isolate [themselves] from family and friends, [lose] their homes, and their deterioration can progress to a physical illness such a fatigue, weight loss, etc. Psychiatrically chronic untreated anxiety can cause severe panic, depression, substance use and [even] alcoholism leading to suicide.”
If you had diabetes would you consider not taking insulin or seeking a doctor? Most likely not, so how is this any different when it comes to our psychiatric health? The brain is just as important as any other organ in the body. Let’s banish these harmful misconceptions so people can give their brains the attention and the care it truly deserves.