Presently, Ireland is spending 40% more than the EU average on pharmaceutical drugs each year. Our attitudes and reliance on over the counter drugs and prescription medication has been brought into question, most recently with a controversial documentary by RTE entitled “Medication Nation”. As a young person in Ireland who takes medication every day I felt compelled to write a response of some sort. I find that whenever this topic is brought up, one thing is always mentioned and that is the use of medication to treat mental health disorders. And that is what I want to focus on, in particular, antidepressants and the stigma attached to them which is still prevalent in Ireland 2017. Now this blog post is not about the documentary exactly because I know I am neither qualified nor educated enough to discuss this topic. I also know I cannot speak for everyone and everything I write about is based solely upon my own experiences.
For many of us, medication is vital when it comes to improving our emotional wellbeing yet it is still stigmatised in Irish society and we are often encouraged to take alternative, non-medical routes. Saying that people should just go and talk to a counsellor is ignorant. Plain and simple. Counselling does not work for everyone. It is not available to everyone. So please get off your fucking high horse. I for one am tired of this stigma that is always accompanied by a stench of superiority. I am tired of people always expecting me to be ashamed that I take medication for my mental wellbeing. I am tired of feeling ashamed for taking this medication. And I am pissed off that people will continue to dismiss this medication in favour of counselling.
I’ve been taking medication for depression since I was 17. I am neither ashamed nor afraid to share this information anymore. On the same day my doctor told me I was suffering from depression (more on that here) I was given a prescription for Prozac and placed on a waiting list to see a counsellor. Emphasis on waiting list. Fortunately for me I only had to wait six weeks before I could begin meeting a youth counsellor weekly and sometimes bi-weekly. I will hands up say that these meetings were paramount when it came to understanding what was going on inside my head. As my doctor explained, there wasn’t one triggering factor connected to my depression. I was not involved in any toxic relationships. I was not being bullied or abused. I did not have financial problems or problems at home. I’ve never really experienced grief either. There wasn’t one thing in my life I could work on removing or changing to help make me better. For me it was genetics – there is a serotonin deficiency in my family and I inherited it. So for me, counselling was about understanding the destructive thought patterns I had developed. It was about learning self-love and self-appreciation and respect for myself. It helped, of course, but it has never been enough.
To date, I have spoken to 6 different counsellors and my experience with every one of them has been different. Their perception of me is always different. Two requested that I stay with them for longer than is generally prescribed via a public service while another told me he felt there was nothing more he could teach me. I also had trouble when I sought help with a local public service. The first counsellor I met there was worried I needed more help than the service could offer so she forwarded me on to her colleague for a second opinion. After that meeting the second counsellor told me I was in fact not bad enough for their service. And that was that. I was on my own again. Two completely different opinions on my mental wellbeing in the space of 8 days. Having spoken to many other people, I know I’m not the only one to face similar barriers. And I tried the private route too but it was no different. Also, the cost alone of one 1 hour service left me feeling so guilty for my parents that it was practically counter active.
But as I said before, my depression is primarily the result of a chemical imbalance so the best course of action for me has always been medication. It is the one thing that has remained constant in my treatment. Of course, like most medication, there are side effects. My first week on Prozac left me with the shakes. I remember sitting on my hands in school hoping nobody would notice or question it but these side effects disappeared after a few days. My first week on Mirtazapine was a bit more intense and it left me with severe suicidal thoughts before the benefits started to kick in. But I knew all this would happen. I always read the leaflets from cover to cover before I take anything. On both occasions I was closely monitored by my parents and when it came to switching to Mirtazapine my whole family came on board. My university was also extremely considerate and respectful of my situation at that time. At all times, I am monitored by my GP. And I am getting better.
So yes, Ireland is consuming more medication than the rest of Europe but I wish our national broadcaster would invest more in exploring why Irish people are relying on them rather than criticising people for taking medication. Ireland has one of the highest rates of suicide, especially amongst youths, in Europe. It is so important that we have open conversations about our mental wellbeing and that we learn and accept that there are many ways to treat these disorders. For some people it is medication, for others it is counselling and often it is a mixture of both. All of these options should be respected equally.