Over the past few weeks, mental health has been all over the media. Whether it be a documentary on the BBC about mental health and sport, or news about Prince Harry's experience of counselling, mental health has become a big talking point.
As someone who has experienced over a decades' worth of mental health difficulties, I can honestly say that I love how openly it is being discussed. Up until a couple of years ago, I really struggled to talk about my mental health with anyone. From experience, I'd learnt that many people were poorly educated when it came to mental health, so I was reluctant to share the difficulties I was going through, worrying that being honest would lead to negative remarks, and inappropriate questions. Anyway, long story cut short, I ended up attempting suicide, was hospitalised, and decided enough was enough: I started speaking up about my mental health, determined to raise awareness, and to try and encourage people to get appropriate help, before reaching the stage I'd got to.
Since 2014, the year that I first publicly opened up about my mental health, I've noticed a steady increase in the number of media campaigns aimed at encouraging people to talk about their mental health. Whilst these campaigns have been brilliant to see, there's been one thing that most of them haven't mentioned: the importance of medication when it comes to mental illnesses. Campaigns have tended to focus on talking therapies, and lifestyle changes, neglecting to mention anything about medication. Or, if medication has been mentioned, it's been treated as a last resort. This needs to change. Whilst I completely agree that, for many people, talking therapies can be incredibly beneficial, it's important to acknowledge that, for others, medication, or a combination of medication and therapy, can be just as effective.
For me, I can honestly say that medication has saved my life. As someone with bipolar and anxiety, I take daily mood stabilisers, anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medication, as well as a sleeping aid. Whilst I have tried various talking therapies, for me, none have been anywhere near as effective as this combination of medications. Before I was on these medications, I was in a state where I was self-harming daily, regularly contemplating suicide, and drinking myself to an early grave. I'm not going to pretend that these medications are perfect: they can have some pretty bad side effects, and I still go through some extremely hard times. However, these 'hard' times are usually lessened after speaking to a psychiatrist, and changing the dosages of the medication I'm on.
I know many others who take medication, and see it as a very important part of their recovery. However, I've also heard many people reject medication on the basis that they're frightened it will 'change who they are'. Whilst I can't speak for others, I know that medication hasn't changed who I am. Instead, it has helped me become a better version of myself. Sure, I have changed in some ways: I no longer feel the need to turn to drink as a form of escapism. I also no longer feel constantly suicidal. But, these are positive changes: these are the changes that are helping me to stay alive and, for that, I thank medication.
Another reason many people are put off by medication is because it's seen as a 'quick fix' and as a way of ignoring long-term problems. For most people, this isn't true. Mental health medication is not 'quick': you cannot take it like a course of antibiotics, and expect to be cured within 10 days. Instead, it takes a good while to take effect and, when it does, most people can be on it for long periods of time. In my case, I've been told that I can expect to be on medication for the rest of my life, and I'm honestly pretty damn glad about it.
It's also worth noting that mental health issues can be linked to physical health factors: whilst theories vary, research suggests that physical factors, such as chemical imbalances in the brain, are responsible for many mental illnesses. If I had a different long-term physical health condition, I could expect to be on medication for the rest of my life, so what's the difference? Besides, for lots of people, a combination of talking therapies and medication can be effective. Therefore, even if a person is on medication for a relatively short period of time, this combined with talking therapy can provide a long-term solution.
There's so many myths about mental health medications, and it's time to dispel these. When talking about mental health, we need to open up the discussion to include medication. It's very well trying to break stigma surrounding mental health - but, if this means demonising some life-saving treatments in the process, it's simply not good enough.
If you're struggling with your mental health, know that medication is often an option. For you, it may not be a viable or a particularly effective option. However, that's for you, and medical professionals to decide. When it comes to your mental health, it's so important that you do what works best for you: if that includes therapy, that's great. If it's changes to your lifestyle that help, that's awesome. And, if that includes taking medication? Believe me when I say that it really can be a life-saver.