The Ugly Truth About Pill Shaming

In the mental health community, pill shaming seems to happen more often than not. I personally have heard people I know in real life post “well-meaning” things on social media that say, “I don’t take pills because I’m more aware of what I put into my body.” This, flat out, is pill shaming. By saying phrases like this, you’re essentially saying to the person who needs pills “I’m healthier and better than you because I don’t need medication!”

Can a diabetic just tell themselves they’re going to strong-arm it today and go without insulin?

Can an asthmatic suddenly have an asthma attack and think they can push through it without albuterol?

Fuck Hell no.

depth photography of blue and white medication pill
Photo by Pietro Jeng on

The same goes for people with mental health conditions and illnesses. Medication can be crucial for many, myself included. I’m not going to say that every person with a mental health diagnosis needs medication, because I’m sure there are people out there who get by okay without it. And that’s wonderful for them. But it doesn’t mean they get to tell someone else that medication isn’t needed in any instance.

The ugly truth about pill shaming? It stops some people from seeking mental health treatment because they’re scared to go on medication. They feel like it will make them unhealthy or that it’s somehow wrong to take pills. Why is it so important for unwell people to get help?

Well, here are some stats for you about people with bipolar disorder:

50% (That’s right. HALF.) of people with bipolar disorder will attempt suicide at some point in their life.

19% of people with bipolar disorder will succeed.

Think about it. 1 in 40 adults in the U.S. live with bipolar disorder. To think that half of those people will try to kill themselves at some point in their life? I can tell you firsthand how staggering it is, how heartbreaking it is to attempt suicide, to feel so low that you feel like you have no other choice.

The Struggle Between Knowledge and Action

There’s a definite struggle between knowing you might have a problem and actually getting help from a professional. And by claiming you’re healthier without any type of medication (which is bullshit, because have you never taken Tylenol or Advil or whatever for a headache?), you’re only pushing the false agenda that people don’t need medication to survive.

Let me ask you this: If you were in a horrible car accident and needed morphine to deal with the pain while in the hospital, would you tell the nurse, “No, thanks, I want my body to be clean”? Sure, maybe there are some folks out there who would do such a thing.

The same goes for psychiatric care. There’s a lot of fearmongering around psychiatric medication. Many of them cause weight gain. You can develop tardive dyskinesia from long-term antipsychotic use, a movement disorder characterized by repetitive, uncontrollable movements in the face, head or torso. You also hear a lot of patients on medication who complain about losing their creativity.

Taking Pills Does Not Make You Weak

There is nothing wrong with needing medication to make your brain function properly.

You may have people tell you that you just need to work out more, go running, eat healthier, stop watching so much television, or even meditate. Sure, all these things can help, but they’re not a direct replacement for medication. There’s this inherent belief that if you have to take medication for your mental health, you are somehow not strong enough as a person.

Let me just say this:

I think anyone who has the courage to seek mental health treatment is one hell of a strong person. It takes an enormous amount of bravery to admit you need help. Don’t listen to those people who say they’re somehow healthier because they don’t take pills. Don’t listen to the people who tell you to just get over it. Don’t listen to the people who say they tried medication and managed to get off medication through hard work. (Cue all the people who have asked me if I’ve tried marijuana to treat my bipolar disorder and anxiety.) Do what’s right for your body and your mind. Everyone’s journey is different. Yours doesn’t have to reflect someone else’s.

Can it be annoying to take pills? Yes. I take lithium three times a day and have to set reminders/alarms on my phone. I have to carry a little pill case with me everywhere I go during the day so I can take my two o’clock pill. I get nauseated if I don’t eat with my medicine. I’ve gained wait because of my medicine. I have tardive dyskinesia because of my medicine. My psychiatrist and I are fighting with my insurance company to get a new medication covered, and we’ve been battling them for almost a month now. I hate spending $100 every month for a 10-minute appointment. (I would much rather spend that money on coffee or shoes or something.)

So, yes, taking pills can be a frustrating experience. But I recognize that without my medication, I would probably be dead by suicide by now.

I leave you with this thought and encouragement:

Don’t let other people other than you or your psychiatrist tell you what you should or shouldn’t do. It is your journey, not theirs. No one else knows what’s going on inside your head.

Listening to your psychiatrist is important, but you should also remember to advocate for yourself. Know your needs. Be informed and aware, but be open to what your doctor has to say.

If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide, please dial the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 (for those in the U.S.).

If you’re interested in reading more about my journey with bipolar disorder and psychosis, please check out my most recent post: Shock: My Experience with Electroconvulsive Therapy.

2 responses to “The Ugly Truth About Pill Shaming”

  1. Thank you for this article and the education it provides to us who want to understand and become more aware of our language.

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