Women Are Tweeting Antidepressant Selfies to Fight Mental Health Stigma
Among the many things we're not supposed to talk about in polite society — sex, money, periods, bowel movements — mental health ranks pretty high on that list. It's not OK to talk openly about having a mental illness, making it even less OK to admit that you're taking medication for it.
While celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence and Lena Dunham have tried to eliminate mental health stigma by talking openly about their experiences, that hasn't changed the fact that, for many men and women, it's simply not acceptable to discuss.
One woman is trying to do her part to change that. Earlier this month, Erin Jones, a mother of four from Nashville who has struggled with anxiety and depression for 14 years, posted a selfie proudly flaunting a prescription for an antidepressant on Facebook.
"Anxiety and antidepressant medication to the rescue," Jones, who blogs about being a mother on the autism spectrum at the website Mutha Lovin' Autism, wrote in the caption to her post. "Sometimes, folks, we just need help."
Admitting we need help: Jones was inspired to snap the selfie while en route to filling her prescriptions, after realizing she could no longer handle her anxiety and depression on her own.
"I was making cookies and posting homeschooling advice, but I was trapped ... in my own mind," she told Mic. "Simple trips to the store meant I may have a panic attack on the five minute drive down ... I hid from my children when they were too loud. I yelled. I cried. I didn't eat. I ate too much."
So Jones finally decided to consult a psychiatrist, after 14 years of being unmedicated. She snapped the selfie to prove to others that admitting you need help managing your illness is not the same as admitting defeat.
"I thought I was strong enough to handle my anxiety and depression on my own until I had to dig deeper and admit that I needed help," she told The Mighty, a media website that focuses on the stories of people face disabilities and mental illness. "That required more strength than any day I battled it on my own. It's scary to admit we aren't all right, especially when everyone depends on us to be."
Clearly, that message resonated with others facing depression, who made the post go viral with over 1,000 likes on Facebook. So Jones teamed up with The Mighty to create the #MedicatedAndMighty hashtag, which encourages men and women to share selfies with their medication.
The photos are proof positive that having a mental illness doesn't deter from your ability to stay strong in the face of adversity.
Moms making a difference: The hashtag has particularly resonated with mothers, who find it particularly difficult to balance the symptoms of mental illness with their family duties.
"I think mothers want so badly to be what holds their families together that they pretend they're all right, many times out of of fear that their family won't make it without them," Jones told Mic. "Mental illness lies to them [and] tells them they aren't sick, [that] they don't need help. No one will believe them, because they've faked it for so long."
It also resonated with Crista Anne, a sex blogger and mother who has frequently discussed her struggles with depression. In January, Crista's story went viral when she created the #OrgasmQuest hashtag campaign after her antidepressants left her anorgasmic, or unable to reach orgasm.
Although the sexual side-effects of her medication were a challenge, Anne says her experience with the tricyclic antidepressant amitriptyline has been life-changing. "I've lived with suicidal ideation for as long as I can remember, a little voice constantly telling me that the solution to any and every problem was to kill myself," she told Mic. "On this medication, that voice is gone."
When she came across Jones' story and #MedicatedAndMighty on the blog Scary Mommy, it instantly struck a chord.
"I've seen a lot of pushback against medicating mental illness via big pharma," Crista told Mic. "Now, there are a ton of lifestyle changes that can be made without meds, talk therapy and other solutions. I utilize many of those on top of taking my big pharma meds."
Fighting the judgment: Over the past few years, the stigma surrounding mental health issues has slowly but surely decreased, largely due to the fact that antidepressants are being prescribed more than ever. In the United States, approximately one in 10 people takes an antidepressant; for women, that number rises to one in four.
Yet judgment persists, particularly for mothers like Jones and Anne, who grapple with balancing maternal duties while managing their disorders. "While PPD and major depressive disorder in moms is an incredibly common occurrence, admitting that we're struggling with mental health in a public way often labels us as the dreaded 'Bad Mom,'" Anne told Mic. "Beyond the judgment for everything a woman does, the judgment seems to ramp up multiple levels once you throw motherhood in the mix."
By sharing her story alongside other women who face depression, both moms and non-moms alike, that judgment will ultimately fade — to the point that one day, hopefully, a woman posing with an antidepressant prescription won't go viral but will simply be met with a shrug.
"I've read, 'Is nothing private anymore? Why should it matter if you're on medication or have a mental illness?'" Jones said of the responses she's been getting to her hashtag. "My answer to that is we've been private about it for far too long. It's time for this discussion. We are living our lives right along side of you and we need your support and respect. That can only come through transparency about who we really are."
Oct. 1, 2015, 10:29 am: This story has been updated.