If you woke up with an extreme fever and were overcome in pain, exhaustion, and heat, would you take medication for it? Or would you allow yourself to succumb to your fatigue and affliction and accept that this is the natural way of coping, thinking ‘My body will take care of itself. It will go away eventually.’ I’m sure many would likely opt to take the medication — whether it be Tylenol, Advil, or Ibuprofen. To have a safe solution in front of you and ignore it out of stubbornness or pride would be unwise and inevitably more damaging.
Since the beginning of middle school, I have suffered from clinically-diagnosed mental health issues. When I tell people this, I commonly hear “I’m so sorry. We need to destigmatize mental health problems! Mental health is real, it’s valid, and it’s important.” And, I agree — to an extent. I have never once felt stigmatized for my chemically imbalanced mind and all of its issues. I would even go so far as to argue that for those who suffer from more common mental health illnesses like anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder, stigma has widely ceased to exist in American culture. The stigma that has not decreased, however, is accepting those who take medication for these issues.
On my first ever move-in day at Westmont, I left the medications that I have taken for years for the illnesses listed above on my desk when I went to go retrieve something out from the hallway. When I came back in, one of my section mates picked up the pill bottles, inspected them, and asked what they were for. When I told her that it was for my mental health, she responded “Oh, have you ever tried the natural way? Like calming essential oils, taking deep breaths, or having supplements like omega-3 fats, valerian root, or maca root?”
This reminded me of a Netflix comedy special “Nanette” by Hannah Gadsby. In it, the comedian tells a story of how an audience member once went up to her after a stand-up show and told her that she should not take antidepressants because they would be taking away her creativity. She responded with, “creativity and suffering are not mutually exclusive. The burden of creativity should not entail needing to suffer.” But many organizations recommend patients with mental illnesses turn to treatments other than medication. For instance, Psycom, a resource for mental health issues that regards itself as a “highly-regarded and trusted mental health resource for consumers … founded by renown(ed) psychiatrist and clinical psychopharmacologist Ivan K. Goldberg, MD.,” published an article just last month entitled “Alternative Treatments for Depression” that listed the popular kitchen spice saffron as a valid treatment for depression.
Ultimately, I agree with Hannah Gadsby. When people tell those who suffer with severe and diagnosed mental illnesses that they ought to forgo life-saving and life-improving medications because it is ‘unnatural’ in some way, they are saying that they see, acknowledge, and recognize their illness but that to suffer is just their lot in life. Just as there is nothing natural about someone having a debilitating fever, there is nothing natural about brains lacking key chemicals like serotonin and norepinephrine. If anything, it is unnatural to see someone suffering and suggest they forgo treatment. If society truly wants to destigmatize mental illness, then they first need to destigmatize the medications that provide treatment to millions. What is unnatural is knowing someone has a chronic illness and allowing them to live with it and suffer for the sake of ‘being natural.’