The Mighty Logo

How 'Natural' Living Trends Can Hurt People With Mental Illness

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

There’s a growing movement in American culture toward more “natural” ways of living. This trend has many positive effects on individual well-being and society writ large—everything from encouraging whole-food, plant-based diets to supporting local businesses. But it also has a dark side. Intentionally or unintentionally, this movement can stigmatize — at times even demonize — things deemed “unnatural” like medication.

“This movement can stigmatize — at times even demonize — things like medication that are deemed “unnatural.”

I got caught up in this movement. After a couple years of being relatively stable, I decided to stop taking the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) I had been using to treat anxiety. I tapered off over the course of two and a half months and felt great— until I didn’t. Almost exactly two weeks after I took my last dose, a stressful event at work triggered a spiral of anxiety and depression.

I “stuck it out” for five weeks — the worst five weeks of my life. During that time I was desperate to manage the anxiety and depression without medication. I kept telling myself that my brain would eventually readjust and things would go back to normal. I read article after article online about “natural” ways to manage anxiety and depression. During this period I had to take time off work, strained my marriage, and caused significant worry to my family.

After deciding I had put myself through enough torture, I went back on the SSRI. But my dark period wasn’t over. Because SSRIs take time to build up in the system, it would be another four weeks until I started to feel like myself again. With the help of a benzodiazepine I could at least go back to work and get through each day of those four weeks.

Even though I’m feeling better, I still haven’t completely accepted that I need medication. Sometimes I feel a sense of failure, that I’m not strong enough. I try to remind myself that I don’t view it as weakness to take antibiotics for an infection or insulin for diabetes or ibuprofen for pain. Without these treatments, people would lead significantly impaired lives or even die. We shouldn’t view treatment for mental illness any differently.

Photo credit: 10255185_880/Getty Images

Originally published: April 26, 2019
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home