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Medication for eating disorders blog 4: Stigma associated with Mental Illness and Psychotropic Medication

By Deborah Etienne-Ward

blog 4

It is well known that people with mental illness are stigmatised. Hurtful or offensive comments about people with mental illness are commonly made by people in the community, families, churches, co-workers, the media, and mental health caregivers. Problematically, despite these comments often not intending to insult a specific person, they are heard by those that suffer with a mental illness, thus resulting in feelings of demoralisation for these people. Therefore, people with mental illness are often fearful that they will be treated differently and viewed as less competent than others if their illness is known (Wahl, 1999).

Medication is a daily physical reminder that one is a psychiatric patient. The physical reminder can cause consumers to internalise the stigma that they perceive from others.  As a result many people report I don’t want to be a person that needs medication”. Additionally, for those that do accept taking medication it is not uncommon for them to be secretive, feel shame, and limit their interaction with other people due to their medication (Kranke, Floersch, Townsend, & Munson, 2010). People with mental illness often believe that medication is proof that they are defective and call themselves “crazy”, “bad”, or “stupid” as an explanation for why they were prescribed psychiatric medication (Rappaport & Chubinsky, 2000).

As an example, one adolescent female reported “I thought medication was only for crazy people, because, like growing up, my dad, he had a few girlfriends that take medicine and I heard my family saying that’s for the mental, crazy people, so I really resented taking medication” (Kranke, Floersch, Townsend, & Munson, 2010, pp. 501). Despite the negative associations that this girl had with medication she did report to notice many benefits of taking medication in her everyday functioning.

Another girl with similar negative beliefs about medication also reported “I started taking medication and I would see a total different person when I took the medicine. I mean I wasn’t so angry and I was able to have a good time and laugh and just have fun… right now I’m loving life. I have great friends. I mean there is nothing better that I can ask for right now” (Kranke, Floersch, Townsend, & Munson, 2010, pp. 503).

Whilst you may find it difficult to accept that you require medication, the purpose of medication is to manage mental illness so that you are able reach your best possible potential and improve your general functioning. There are many people that we pass by each day who have a mental illness, and who take psychotropic medications, and we wouldn’t even know. This is because people whose mental illness is managed well by adherence to treatment regimes, including medication, are less likely to stand out as having a mental illness. It is important to understand that taking medication for mental illness is no different to taking medication for other illnesses such as asthma, diabetes, or hypertension.

Another common theme that emerges out of the stigma of mental illness and psychotropic medication is the concern Will I be on medications forever?” This has been touched on slightly in previous blogs. When medications are prescribed for the sole purpose of treating an eating disorder, research generally suggests that psychotropic medication can alleviate treatment interfering symptoms and facilitate treatment gains relatively effectively in the short-term (Aigner, et al., 2011; Brewerton, 2012; Kruger & Kennedy; Preston, O’Neal, & Talaga, 2013; Kruger & Kennedy, 2000).

With adjunct psychological therapy it is possible for people with eating disorders to come off their psychotropic medication. However, each individual is different and cessation of medication should only be done with the guidance of a doctor or psychiatrist.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is general only and individual advice regarding psychotropic medication should be sought from your GP or psychiatrist.

References

Aigner, M., Treasure, J., Kaye, W., Kasper, S. & The WFSBP Task Force on Eating Disorders. (2011). World Federation of Societies of Biological Psychiatry (WFSBP). Guidelines for the Pharmacological treatment of Eating Disorders. The World Journal of Biological Psychiatry, 12, 400-443.

Kranke, D., Floersch, J., Townsend, L., & Munson, M. (2010). Stigma experience among adolescents taking psychiatric medication. Children and Youth Services Review, 32: 496-505. doi:10.1016/jchildyouth.2009.11.002

Rappaport, N., & Chubinsky, P. (2000). The meaning of psychotropic medications for children, adolescents, and their families. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 39(9), 1198-1200.

Wahl, O.F. (1999). Mental Health Consumers’ Experience of Stigma. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 25(3): 467-478.

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