College Students And Mental Health: Ending The Stigma Of Medication
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Health and Wellness

College Students And Mental Health: Ending The Stigma Of Medication

Would you judge someone for taking insulin?

College Students And Mental Health: Ending The Stigma Of Medication
Stuart Bradford

It hit me as I stood on the curb of LAX with my brother after Thanksgiving break. The little orange vial that I brought everywhere with me was not in my purse, rather 1,000 miles away at home sitting on my dresser. The next 72 hours would consist of multiple calls to my doctor in Portland, three trips to CVS, along with dizziness, blurry vision, decreased appetite, and confusion. Once I finally got my prescription, I took my dosage and immediately fell asleep for 16 hours. Within 24 hours, I felt fine.

This is my life on Zoloft.

I've been on Zoloft for three years now, ever since I was diagnosed with depression, generalized anxiety disorder, and an eating disorder otherwise non-specific at 16 years old. At this point, I was going to weekly individual and group therapy, as well as weekly and bimonthly appointments for my doctor and dietitian. When my doctor first recommended that I go on medication, I cried in my car for an hour because I was so embarrassed by the idea of being medicated. On TV, kids my age with depression or anxiety had a whole season arc, with massive breakdowns without the medication, complete with the stereotypical throwing-pills-down-toilet shot. I never saw it like that--my depression and anxiety were just always there. In my mind, needing medication just confirmed my greatest fear that I was crazy. I saw myself as weak, someone who couldn't function like the rest of society. However, at my following appointment, she said something that changed my perspective on medication.

"You have a chemical imbalance in your brain that isn't your fault. It's just like if you had diabetes and needed insulin. Medication is not meant to change you--it just tunes out the background noise of your anxiety and depression so that you can actually use the skills you're learning in therapy."

According to the Mayo Clinic, "13 percent of the overall population is antidepressants," not even accounting for those on antipsychotics (i.e. schizophrenia, bipolar) or anti-anxiety medication alone. On any college campus "one in four students have a diagnosable mental illness," with 36.4 percent of college students reporting that they experienced some level of depression in 2013 (Best Colleges). If you live in an apartment with three other students, statistically speaking, one of you will suffer from a mental illness. In your sorority chapter of 200 girls, 50 will suffer.

So why aren't we talking about it?

In an anonymous survey, students reported the following:

"Taking medication at first made me incredibly insecure, especially during high school and when I started college. I hated myself for having a 'broken brain,' and I couldn't control my fear or anxiety like a normal person."

"People think people who take antidepressants are weak and taking the easy way out."

"I was in a psych hospital for a while, and we had conversations about what to tell people when we got out. Most of it was 'say you were sick,' 'I had a heart condition,' or something of that sort. Medical professionals told us not to tell many people the truth because of the stigma."

This is a problem.

We need to stop viewing mental health as less important than physical or even sexual health. This begins with our education system, and we must start early. No more sugar coating mental illness to children, summing medication up as "happy pills." It's not that simple, and we can't keep pushing it to the wayside. As hard as it is, we have to stop letting fear of judgement prevent us from being open about it. Stop saying that it's from migraines or low blood pressure--say it how it is. Taking medication means you're taking an active step in increase your quality of life--you're taking care of yourself, no different than when you go to dentist or doctor for a physical aliment. By admitting you need help and cannot do it alone, you're actually incredibly brave. Know your medication does not define you, nor does it make you broken. It it just a part of your life--no different than one's birth control or insulin for diabetes. People often hear the medication is a crutch. Yes, medication is a crutch--meaning that similarly to crutches when you break your leg, it is intended to help you achieve a better quality of life and not hinder you. By taking medication, I was able to apply the skills I needed to live a fulfilling life. It's not the key to success, not the pill that will solve your problems. It is just a piece in the larger puzzle that is successful treatment.

When I began to write this article, I was incredibly nervous about being open about my medication. I feared that my friends would see me as weak, as crazy, as every stereotype in the book. But, I realize that if I let my fear prevent me from writing this, I would be subsiding to the stigma, letting the stigma win. The only way to help people understand the importance of mental health is to start the conversation. Over the summer, I bought cute little pill box that says "Medicated and Motivated." Damn right, I'm medicated and motivated.

And there is no way in hell I'm letting the stigma silence me.

If you or a friend are struggling with depression, anxiety, or any other mental health problems, reach out for help. is a fantastic resource to find local resources, as well as your local on-campus psychological services.

You are not weak for needing help. Reach out today.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

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