‘Hooked on happy pills’? How the media demonises mental health medication

Language is very telling of attitudes - would it be the same talking about medication for
high blood pressure?

Share
Related Topics

Working in a busy press office for a major mental health
charity Rethink Mental Illness,
I often get calls from journalists asking if I can put them in touch with
someone to interview about their experiences of mental illness.

Nothing unusual about that. What I have noticed about these conversations however, is the familiar phrases that so often tend to pop up. Do we have anyone who has been ‘parked’ on medication for over 10 years? A mum who is ‘hooked’ on Prozac? Take a look at almost any media coverage about antidepressants or antipsychotics and you’ll often find this kind of language creeping in.

Every time new figures come out showing increases in prescriptions for these types of drugs, we get a flurry of calls from the media asking if we’re ‘concerned’ about the ‘shocking rise’ in the ‘antidepressant epidemic’.

What I find worrying, is the automatic assumption that a rise in prescriptions, or someone taking medication for a number of years, is necessarily A Bad Thing.

Medication for mental illness can save lives and give people the stability they need to survive. That may be for a few months, it may be years. While no one wants to be on any kind of medication unnecessarily, for some people, it’s the best option.

The language used in the media around this is very telling. There is a clear dividing line between those who simply ‘take’ medication, such as people with diabetes, and those who are ‘hooked’ on it - people with mental health problems.

Antidepressants in particular are often written about in the context of someone trying desperately to ‘give them up’ as if they’re some kind of bad habit.

The subtext to all this is that to take mental health medication is unnecessary, a sign of weakness and failure. I can’t help wondering if this stems from the deep seated suspicion, which is rarely voiced, but still surprisingly pervasive, that the vast majority of people with mental health problems aren’t really ill, they’re just a bit sad or being a bit difficult. If as a society, we can’t truly accept that people with depression are ill, then how can we accept that it’s ok for them to take medication for it?

These deep-seated beliefs are not only stigmatising, they have a very real impact on people living with mental illness every day. It’s bad enough to be diagnosed with a mental illness and accept that you may need to take medication, but to be made to feel guilty for doing so, is especially hard.

When speaking to members of my charity, I often detect a sense of guilt when people talk about medication, as if it is an admission of weakness. I’ve seen it in my personal life too. One of my best friends was prescribed antidepressants for a severe mental illness last year. She found it incredibly helpful, but as soon as she stabilized, her immediate concern was to get off it as soon as possible. While of course it’s a good idea to try and come off any kind of medication if it’s not necessary, talking to her about it, it was clear that the main driving force wasn’t her health, but the sense of shame and inadequacy she felt for needing it.

Would she feel this way if she was taking medication for high blood pressure? I very much doubt it.

Rethink Mental Illness, is neither ‘for’ or ‘against’ medication, what we’re interested in is people having a choice over their own treatment and finding what works for them. The real problem is that in the vast majority of cases, this isn’t happening. Far too often, due to squeezed NHS budgets, people are only offered drugs when they could benefit from talking therapies either instead of, or alongside it.

My charity is the first to point out what a scandal it is that antipsychotic medications haven’t vastly improved since the 1950s. We have long campaigned for improvements in drugs which come with a range of horrific side-effects and double your chances of dying from heart disease. Despite all this, for many people, taking this medication is still their preferred option, which says a lot about how devastating psychosis can be.

Many people manage their mental heath problems very successfully without any medication; others may need to take it for the rest of their lives, there is no right or wrong. What is wrong however, is that anyone should be made to feel inadequate for falling into the latter group.

The media plays such a powerful role in shaping our understanding of mental illness, it’s vital journalists start thinking twice before lazily throwing around words like ‘hooked’ when they write about this sensitive subject. I look forward to the day I can open a newspaper and see decisions over medication presented as a straightforward health issue, rather than a moral struggle to resist the ‘happy pills’.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Solicitor - Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: EXETER - A great new opportunity with real pot...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor - Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: EXETER - An outstanding senior opportunity for...

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: When is a baroness not a baroness? Titles still cause confusion

Guy Keleny
 

CPAC 2015: What I learnt from the US — and what the US could learn from Ukip

Nigel Farage
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower