Medical pills green, yellow, grey, white in human's hands

 

You get sick. You go to the doctor. The doctor tells you how to treat it. You treat it — right?

For mental illness, it’s not always that simple. Treatment can involve a lot of factors, including finding a therapist who works for you, changing up your routine and sometimes, finding the right combination of medication. And whether it’s self-imposed or from friends or family, the stigma surrounding medicating mental illness can be another hurdle, making people feel like using this treatment option is somehow “giving up.”

But treatment is treatment, and although finding the right medication can be complicated, you should never be ashamed of how you treat your illness. To learn more, we asked our community to tell us what they think are the biggest misconceptions about treating mental illness with medication.

Here are some myths they want you to stop believing:

Myth #1: It’s the easy way out.

“Finding the right medications and taking them properly is a huge commitment of time and effort. It’s not as simple as just popping a pill, folks.” — Cary Rice Schwent

“Nothing about depression and anxiety is easy. I still have days where I don’t want to get out of bed. I still suffer from anxiety. But I tried fixing things on my own and it almost killed me. Medication saved my life.” — Keisha Defliger

Medication is not a cop-out; it’s only one of many tools in my arsenal to get by day to day.” — Kira Schoultz 

Quote by Keisha Defliger: Nothing about depression and anxiety is easy.

Myth #2: It’s different than taking medication for a physical illness.

“For many types of mental illness, medication is no different from a diabetic taking insulin. If you have an imbalance, you have an imbalance, whether it’s in your brain or somewhere else in your body. It’s OK to need medication.” — Delaina Conour

“People think I should be able to handle my illnesses without medicine. In reality, without medicine, my illnesses would handle me.” — Sarah Ceasar

Quote by Sarah Ceasar: people think I should be able to handle my illnesses without medication. In reality, without medication, my illnesses would handle me."

Myth #3: When you’re having a bad day, it always means you “forgot to take your medication.”

“I’m allowed to have bad days. Too often I get asked on a bad day if I’m taking my meds. It’s just assumed the medications fix everything. Bad days happen no matter how religiously medications are taken.” — Heather East Tenney

I frequently get asked if I forgot to take my meds when all I’m doing is behaving in a reasonable and valid way. It’s almost as if people think the purpose of my meds is to make me docile and complacent.” — Jessica Love

“Some people think if you’re taking medication you’re cured and have no excuse to have anxiety or to be in a bad mood. Well, nobody is perfect and we all have bad days.” — Tina Frotton Hinebaugh

quote by Heather East Tenney: Bad days happen now matter how religiously medications are taken.

Myth #4: Medication changes your identity. 

“My meds relieve my symptoms so I can be myself.” — Natalie Tam

“People say, ‘Medication will make you a zombie.’ Wrong. My son is completely withdrawn without his medication. Medication keeps him with us.” — Tammy Harbert

“I was more of a ‘zombie’ before finding the right medication. Now, I’m living my life. These medications helped me to think my own thoughts, be my own person, and live my own life, without all of the thoughts, obsessions, etc. of my various disorders slowing me down and distracting me.” — Rachel N

Quote by Rachel N: I was more of a zombie before finding the right medication.

Myth #5: When you start taking medication, your recovery “work” is done.

“Therapy helps, meds help. I need both to recover.” — Carolina Ledezma Carrasco

“I don’t chose medication instead of therapy or prayer or anything else you might suggest. Usually, I’ve tried all of the above. I stick with what works, which means a combination of things.” — Allie Wills

“I feel people assume my ADHD and anxiety medications are a ‘magic fix’ for my symptoms. They play a role, but it’s my choice to go the extra mile with therapy and organizational effort.” — Danielle Bailey

quote by Carolina Ledezma Carrasco: Therapy helps, meds help. I need both to recover.

Myth #6: They’re all “happy pills.”

“Taking medicine for depression and anxiety doesn’t make me happy all the time. They just reduce the trigger threshold for my anxiety and make my lows not so low.” — Tabi Baker

Nope. It’s more like a ‘sometimes I feel not-so-doomed’ pill.” — Kristin Lara

“Sometimes, there’s no ‘fixing’ mental illness. There’s functioning and surviving it.” — Emily Perkins

quote by Tabi Baker: Taking medication for depression and anxiety doesn't mean I'm happy all the time."

Myth #7: Taking medication makes you weak.

Taking medication for mental illness isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of strength. Taking care of yourself is always a good thing.” — Lisa Gray Stephens

“I’m constantly being told to ‘tough it out’ or that I need to ‘try harder.’ That I’m using them to cope instead of ‘learning how to handle normal emotions.’” — Tiffany Ball

Taking medication isn’t my weakness, it’s what I do to help myself feel strong again.” — Arielle Smith

quote by Arielle Smith: Taking medications isn't my weakness, it's what I do to help myself feel strong again.

*Some answers have been edited and shortened

Editor’s note: These answers are based on personal experience and shouldn’t be taken as professional advice. Talk to your doctor before starting on any medication.

Related: 18 Messages for People Who View Medicating Mental Illness as a Weakness

 7 Myths We Need to Stop Believing About Medicating Mental Illness

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What if we could see mental illness on the outside?

That’s the question Paul Falcone is asking in a project called, “Consumed: Mental Illness Through Photography.” The 21-year-old, who’s finishing up school at Westfield State University, hopes his project (also his honor’s thesis) will provide a visual for those who don’t understand what it’s like to live with a mental illness.

Falcone was diagnosed with depression when he was 13. Though he would make references to his experiences in poetry and music, he didn’t explicitly start talking about mental illness until a rough patch freshman year left him reaching out for help. When he decided to make mental health his focus in a writing class, it turned into Dear Hope, the mental health advocacy site he now runs.

Reading the stories people were submitting to the site chronicling their own mental health challenges, Falcone realized a reason many are so hesitant to speak up about mental health.

“I was reflecting on myself and how long it took me to say something,” he told The Mighty. “Why did I wait so long? Why is it that so hard? It goes back to the idea it’s all in your head. It’s not something concrete — you can’t see it. I thought, I can do that, make it concrete, I can make it something people can grasp.”

The result is a physical manifestation of what mental illness might look like if we could see it on the outside how it makes people feel inside.

A woman stares into the camera. Black hands reach out to her.
Depression | photo: Zachary Johnson | model: Marissa Jacobson
The black hands now cover the woman's face.
Depression | photo: Zachary Johnson | model: Marissa Jacobson

Since releasing the photos, created with the help of photographer Zachary Johnson and artists Alyssa Rogalaski and Josh Paciga, Falcone has received a positive response. He even got an email from a 15-year-old girl who said the project encouraged her to stop self-harming and open up to her parents.

“It’s helping a lot of people,” he said. “It’s really humbling.”

The project is still a work in progress, and while Falcone acknowledges depression and mental illness might not “look” the same for everyone, he hopes a glimpse into his own experience will help people talk about their own.

Check out more of the photo series below:

Photo of a man staring at the camera, with black streaks on his face.
Depression | photo: Zachary Johnson | model: Rich Monteiro
Man with black make up on his body, looking down.
Depression | photo: Zachary Johnson | model: Rich Monteiro
Man staring at the camera. Black hands are reaching out at him.
Depression | photo: Zachary Johnson | model: Rich Monteiro
Man staring at the camera. Black hands are all over his face.
Depression | photo: Zachary Johnson | model: Rich Monteiro
Woman staring into the camera with black streaks on her belly.
Anxiety | photo: Zachary Johnson | model: Anthia
Woman screaming, black lines are in her chest.
Anxiety | photo: Zachary Johnson | model: Anthia
Woman bent down and screaming.
Anxiety | photo: Zachary Johnson | model: Anthia
Man looking to the site, black streaks on his face.
Depression, Anxiety, & Anger | photo: Zachary Johnson | model: Alex Alecia
Man screaming, with black streaks on his face.
Depression, Anxiety, & Anger | photo: Zachary Johnson | model: Alex Alecia
Man screaming, with black all over his face.
Depression, Anxiety, & Anger | photo: Zachary Johnson | model: Alex Alecia

To see the rest of the project, visit Dear Hope. For more stories and art about mental illness, you can find Dear Hope on Facebook and Twitter.


Mental illness can be a tricky beast when it plays with our thoughts, feelings and moods. It can be hard to tell who’s in control. Am I failing, or is anxiety talking? Am I really worthless, or is that just my depression? Part of recovery is figuring out whose voice is whose — when you can recognize mental illness’ voice, it’s easier to figure out when it’s lying.

To help you combat these lies, we asked our community to share some of the worst lies mental illness tells — and then what they say back.

If you need a good line or two to spit back to your mental illness today, we hope this helps:

1.

Depression says: You are ugly and unlovable. You say back: You are not the truth. You are a lying funhouse mirror. My beauty is beyond your opinion.
Joseph Penola

 

2.

Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 3.13.37 PM
Julianne Leow

 

3. 

Mental illness said, "No one is ever there for you." You say back, "People are there for me as much as they can be. If I need help, I need to speak up."
Jessica Love

 .

4.

Bipolar disorder says, "I control everything you do and feel." You say back, "With medicine and support, I will have control over you and live a better life."
Michael Tryon

 

5.

Mental illness says, "You are alone. No one understands what you illness is like." You say back, "True. People don't know what it's like for me personally. But I have friends who have taken the time to understand. They know what kind of support I need."
Calliope Krystal Pia Kilpeläinen

6.

Mental illness says, "You are a worthless, non-productive member of society." You say back, "My career being on hold doesn't diminish the accomplishments I've made up to this point. There will come a time where I can pick up where I left off."
Peggy Sholar-Wilbur

 

7.

Mental illness says, "You are such a disappointment to everyone around you." You say back, "I am strong and I do things right everyday. I make mistakes and that's okay. I'm not perfect."
Abigayle Petty

 

8. 

Agoraphobia says, "I've got you held prisoner." You say back, "I will break down these walls and be free again some day."
Aunt Sam

 

9.

Mental illness says, "There is NO future for you beyond this moment." You say back, "This is only ONE moment."
Jordan Sims

 

10.

Depression says, "You are the only one who has depression." You say back, "I am not. I'll reach out to somebody. Everyone knows somebody who struggles with it."
Jackie Burkey

 

11.

Depression says, "You are a failure. You are worthless. No one cares. No one understands. You should just disappear." You say back: "You're a liar. I'm not going to give you power today. I will fight you wit every cell in my body. I am worthy. I am beautiful. I'm a good person deserving of happiness. My thoughts belong to me."
Jacqueline Hadley Conrad

 

12.

Depressions says: "There's no point in going on. This life is worthless." You say back, "I matter. I'll embrace the darkness -- it'll lead me into the light."
Teresa Boardman

 

13. 

Depression and anxiety say, "The world doesn't need you. You have no value. I was created for a purpose. My kindness and love does matter and helps those around me."

 

14.

Mental illness says, "You can't. You can't get out of bed. You can't do what needs done. You can't take care of things. You can't be happy." You say back, "It's all untrue. I am strong. I am capable. I CAN."
Chelsea Haire

 


It’s no shock to me that I’m overweight. I live with it every single day. It’s been creeping up on me for the last 15 years. Do you think I don’t cry myself to sleep at night after seeing myself in the mirror? Do you think I don’t see the people staring?

I’ve had more ups and downs than you can imagine. I’m sure many people take one look at me and just assume I’m lazy and all I do is eat. That’s not the case at all. I would think that someone with a medical degree could understand that. Sometimes it doesn’t just boil down to eating habits or exercise.

I’ve been on various medications for mental illness for 24 years; many of those medications have caused weight gain. Literally, the last thing I care about when I am in a depressive episode is taking care of myself. Nine times of out 10, I don’t even remember to eat at all. As it turns out, that’s just as bad as overeating. Who would’ve thought? I starved myself off and on starting at age 13 until roughly age 35. Even though it didn’t always work, I held onto it so tightly for fear of losing my last remaining crutch.

In 2014, I was finally diagnosed with sciatica. If you Google it, you get this definition: pain affecting the back, hip and outer side of the leg, caused by compression of a spinal nerve root in the lower back, often owing to degeneration of an intervertebral disk. That almost makes it sound like a cake-walk compared to what it really is. For more than I year, I was virtually bedridden and on a healthy dose of painkillers.

Our doctor thought it was related to some abnormalities in my hip that he saw after yet another MRI. He then sent us off in the direction of a “specialist.” At this point, I could hardly walk from our bedroom to our bathroom, I was in so much pain. Being overweight doesn’t help any of the procedures, or knee brace fittings or x-rays. Don’t even get me started on the procedure where they inject dye into my hips, and I screamed in both pain an embarrassment at the fact they needed more people than usual to do the procedure. Well, somebody had to hold the fat out of the way!

We went to the hip specialist and he had more x-rays taken. I explained the entire situation to his nurse, all the way from the nasty fall I took on our back-porch steps in 2012. I slipped on the ice and landed square on my back on the frozen wooden steps. I explained three to four other falls I had taken, and then I knew I was overweight, but the pain had never been like this. It was excruciating.

It was even more painful that we waited an hour for that doctor to come to talk to us. We told him who sent me and what he thought was wrong. He said, “Well, that is not what is wrong with you. This all relates to your sciatica, and you should strongly consider weight loss surgery. You know what I mean, right?”

With a lump in my throat, I nodded and he walked out. Five minutes was all it took him to decide that there couldn’t be anything else wrong, except my weight. Once again, I was given the heave-ho because it was either all in my head or it was only happening because of my weight.

I went home discouraged and sad. I vowed that whatever would happen next would be on my terms. No more embarrassing doctor visits, and no more trips to the ER.

It’s a sad commentary on our times that I’ve told my husband, “don’t tell them I’m
bipolar!” due to the standard reaction you get. Once the eyes glaze over and the condescending nod kicks in, you know you’re not going to get treatment.

It took me a few more months after the Five-Minute Clinic to get past the sheer shock of the whole experience. I decided that the side effects I was experiencing from the painkillers were too much to handle, so I began weaning myself off them. My primary care doctor agreed with that decision.

I took some time to try to figure things out. I watched documentaries, I read articles and I learned more about food and where it came from. I learned that I needed to start eating to live, not living to eat. I started a new yoga plan, and I was doing better. I was still in pain, but it was tolerable. I did start to lose weight, and I was feeling better. I will admit that during a particularly unbearable bout of depression, I gave up on taking care of me again, but I know what needs to be done, and I know I can do it.

What really makes me angry are the tears I’ve shed over that doctor that couldn’t be bothered to diagnose me with anything other than being fat. Let it be clear, he might have started the switch in my brain that made me realize I would never be taken seriously; but it was me who sought the solutions.

I still have good days and bad days, and I expect I always will. Weight loss is still a struggle for me, but it’s not something I am unfamiliar with. I’ve battled this demon since I was a chubby kid shopping in the “husky” department at Sears for school clothes. At least now I know what I need to do. It would have been nice to have a medical professional figure this out a long time ago, but that’s the way the rice cake crumbles, I suppose.

So, to the doctor that spent five minutes in the room with me, told me I was fat, and walked out, thanks. Thanks for making me so angry at you that I made the best decision I’ve ever made in my life. I started to care of myself for once.

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My former roommate prompted this post. She put me down repeatedly and called me weak for doing possibly the strongest thing I’ve ever done — getting help.

If you think mental illness doesn’t have a stigma, then you might be contributing to it. Think about it — words like “psychotic” are spat out like poison. And no one’s supposed to hang out with people who are “not quite right in the head” or “insane.” Why? Because it might rub off? Last time I checked, hallucinations, compulsions and panic attacks are about as contagious as cancer.

And then, after all that, people decide it must be fun or easy to deal with mental health issues. We just don’t want to deal with things. We made it up. We just want attention. The truth? All we want is to be “normal.” While you’re thinking about how easy it is to stay in bed all day, we’re thinking about how easy it must be to be like everyone else. How easy it must be to know that you’re seeing the same thing as everyone else. How easy it must be not to “freak out” over something that isn’t scary. How easy it must be to go about life without knowing that in a second, everything could change and you could be completely incapacitated with no one to help you.

Others only seem to see two types of mental illness. Those who have “completely lost it” and those who are pretending, enviable because they can get out of things. They don’t see how truly desperate these people are to escape. I’ve tried to find experimental treatments and trials to join, from horse tranquilizers to brain surgery. “That’s ridiculous — you don’t need that, you’re just a little sad.” Well, you don’t understand, you can’t understand, what it’s like for something to always be there. And that’s OK. I envy you. And I really hope you don’t envy me. Because there is no one I would wish a severe mental illness on. Because it doesn’t just stop. It doesn’t take breaks no matter what is going on.

This stigma affects the people who actually suffer from these conditions. Especially because after a while, we start to fall into the trap. We believe we must be faking. We believe maybe we should and could just “snap out of it.” We believe we are weak for getting or accepting help. So on top of everything else, we put off getting help and hide our conditions. We don’t want anyone else to know because they might think we are weak. The disorder lies to us and others seem to agree. It’s hard for us to decide which voice to listen to. Who is right? Especially since we know everything could change it in a second.

This is what happened to me and this roommate. She she made it seem like mental illness was no big deal, and I believed her. She was confirming the things I was already thinking. While others protested, I couldn’t believe them. I wasn’t that bad. There were tons of people who waited more time to get help and were therefore worse than I was. I was faking it. I was over-exaggerating. I was needy. I was weak.

I know these things are not true. I know those who are close to me and care about me are correct. I know it. I try to believe it. And I try not to listen to the negative forces in my life, both external and internal. But it’s hard. That is something I think everyone can agree on, mental illness or not.

This is my take. I use “we” meaning people living with mental illness, but this is only my reality. There are exceptions; we are not all the same. But at the same time, we’re really not all that different from everyone else. Don’t be afraid of us. Don’t make assumptions. Treat us the same way you would treat someone with diabetes. Diabetics may need special medication or watch what they eat. But it would be silly not to talk to someone because she or he were a diabetic, right? And it would be just as silly not to talk to someone because she or he had a mental illness. Don’t believe the stigma.

Follow this journey on Cassandra’s Curse.

The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us a story about a time you encountered a commonly held misconception about your mental illness. How did you react, and what do you want to tell people who hold his misconception? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.


I often run student workshops on a range of issues related to mental health and emotional wellbeing.  Regardless of the precise topic, the most common question students ask me is: “What should I do if I’m worried a friend has a mental health issue?”

Perhaps it’s something you’re wondering about, or you’d like to be able to share ideas with your students, friends or your own child.  I’ve shared my ideas below, but I’d love to hear yours, too.

1. Listen.

The most important thing you can do for your friend is to make time for them and listen to them. They need to feel listened to, so get rid of all distractions. Giving them the space and time to talk is a really important first step — in the beginning, but also right through (and beyond) the recovery journey.

2. Don’t judge.

More than almost anything, young people with mental health and emotional well-being issues such as depression, eating disorders and self-harm tell me that they fear the judgement of others. They worry people will overreact, thinking they’re crazy or assuming they want to kill themselves. Or sometimes, they worry people will be dismissive and think they’re just attention-seeking. A good friend listens without judgement and sees their friend as a friend — not a unhelpful label like “anorexic or “self-harmer.”

3. Ask how you can help.

When someone shares their struggles and concerns with you, the most helpful thing you can ask is how you can help. There’s no need to dissect the ins and outs of why your friend feels this way — that is the work of a therapist. But as their friend, you can talk to them about what practical measures you can put in place to support them through each day. Think about difficulties and barriers which are making life harder for them. For example, if they’re struggling with anxiety, maybe arriving at school when its really busy makes them feel panicky and out of control. To relieve this, maybe you could walk in with them each day to offer moral support. Exactly how you can help will vary from person to person, so the best thing to do is to have a discussion with your friend to bounce some ideas about. You should also try to revisit the topic every now and then.

4. Seek support — for your friend and yourself. 

Depending on the nature of your friend’s concerns, it’s likely you’ll need to encourage them to seek further support. Telling a trusted adult at home or school will enable you to access further support – for both of you. Your friend might be reluctant to share their concerns with anyone else, but if you’re worried it’s important that you don’t go it alone. Also, you may end up developing well-being issues yourself if you take on your friend’s concerns without any additional help. You can help your friend to feel reassured and more in control of the situation by discussing:

  • WHAT information needs to be passed on – you only need to share enough to access support, not everything they’ve told you.
  • WHO needs to know – think carefully about who you trust to respond appropriately and support you both.
  • HOW you’re going to tell them – does your friend want to do it themselevs, do they want you to do it for them, should you to it together or should you write a letter or email?

Of course, we should always try to seek our friend’s consent before alerting someone to their issues. However, there are some circumstances in which you should tell a trusted adult right away to keep your friend safe, and to access support as quickly as possible.  These circumstances include:

  • Self-harm including alcohol or drug misuse
  • Suicidal feelings
  • Difficulties concerning food including bingeing, starving, vomiting or laxative abuse
  • Abuse at home (physical, sexual or emotional)
  • Abuse from a boyfriend or girlfriend (physical, sexual or emotional)
  • Bullying of any type

5. Stick by them.

Finally, stick by your friend through thick and thin. It can be hard being friends with someone who’s facing these kinds of difficulties; you may find your friend pushes you away, stops coming out with you, starts acting differently or ignores you completely. But rest assured, your support will mean a huge amount to them (even if they don’t show it) and will help them through their recovery. Even just the occasional text message can mean a huge amount to someone who’s struggling to get through each day.

Good luck – your friend is lucky to have you.

Follow this journey on In Our Hands.

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