Columns, Opinion

MINTZ: Medication for mental illness is perfectly okay

As college students, we know what it’s like to be overworked. We know what it’s like to sit with our head in our hands wondering when the deluge of assignments is going to slow down. My friends and I have been known to schedule our “monthly breakdowns” around all of the work we have to do, because we don’t even have the time to fit a good cry into our schedules.

Of course, this is a joke. When you gotta cry, you gotta cry. But it’s a joke tinged with more seriousness than any of us would probably admit.

A huge issue on college campuses is mental illness, namely anxiety and depression. Statistics reported by the National Alliance for Mental Illness estimate that one in four people between the ages of 18 and 24 have a diagnosable mental illness. A recent email sent out by our very own Boston University stated that nearly one in six students has been diagnosed with or treated for anxiety, and nearly one in eight for depression.

It’s clearly an issue that can’t be ignored any longer, and we must discuss it. And with a discussion of mental illness must come a discussion on ways to treat it.

Enter supermodel Cara Delevingne. I’ve long admired her for always speaking her mind in an industry where women are so often silenced into submission. She’s proclaimed her devotion to feminism, come out as bisexual and started her foray into the world of acting all in her past few years in the public eye. And good for her — since her primary fanbase is young girls, she’s inspiring young girls to want to call themselves feminists. And that’s always a good thing.

But what’s not as great is an interview she recently gave at London’s Women in the World Summit. In the interview, she was asked about her decision to separate herself from the modeling industry. She cited being overworked as the primary factor in her transition, saying that the amount of work that she was being made to do caused her to get physically and mentally ill.

The model and actress revealed that, while modeling, she battled depression. She spoke about feeling hopeless and stressed out, even suicidal. She said that she went on medication, but that it only “masked” her depression when what she really needed was someone to reach out and help her.

Now, I’m all for Delevingne’s frank discussion of mental illness and how debilitating it can be, and I love how she talks about the behind-the-scenes horrors of the modeling industry. But I can’t idly let her suggest that one doesn’t need medication to treat mental illness when there are so many impressionable fans listening to her who could need help, and who she could dissuade from getting the chemical help they may so desperately need.

I’ve been open about my struggle with bipolar disorder, and I’m not ashamed to say that medication absolutely saved my life. I’ve been on what feels like every psychiatric medication in the books, and I’ll likely be doomed to switch it up every now and then for the rest of my life — that’s just the nature of bipolar.

And while it makes me happy to hear that Delevingne’s struggle was treated naturally, some people don’t have that luxury. Some people, even people with “just” depression or anxiety (which can be extremely debilitating, don’t get me wrong), need medication to get better. And making medication seem unnecessary just adds to the stigma behind taking psychiatric medication, which can be extremely dangerous.

I’ve heard time and time again of my friends with serious mental illnesses weaning themselves off of medication because they feel uncomfortable with the idea of having to take a pill to be sane. I’ve heard stories of people having to fight their families to see a psychiatrist because their parents feel that medication is detrimental. I have been told numerous times that taking psych meds for the rest of my life is unsafe, even though for some of us, going without medication is the real danger.

Arguments against medication include the ever-popular standpoint that medication is for people who are simply too lazy to put work in. Then come the comparisons: we are too lazy to lose weight to treat diabetes or heart disease so we take a pill to manage it instead, and that is somehow equivalent to being lazy enough to take a pill every day so that you don’t wake up suicidal the next morning. So what is it, exactly, that I should do instead? Yoga?

A person with a serious mental illness does not have the luxury of going into downward dog, writing their feelings down before they go to sleep and knowing that the next day they’ll wake up symptom-free. Mental illness is a chronic problem that often requires consistent treatment. It is a daily struggle to conform and thrive when you’re dealing with a chemical imbalance in your brain. The real question is, why wouldn’t you accept a little bit of extra help?

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  1. Gregory Knapp, CAS '86

    Dear Ms. Mintz:

    Congratulations on a great piece. Extremely well said.

    The stigma against mental illness is irrational, creates more suffering on top of the primary suffering caused by the illness, and in fact costs lives. It must be fought at every opportunity.

    As has often been pointed out, no one who has diabetes is “ashamed” of having to take insulin. No doubt it is terrible to have diabetes, and to have to take insulin. But the disease and its treatment is not stigmatized by society in the way mental illness is.

  2. Once again you speak your mind. Which btw I think is in wonderful brilliant shape !! You get it out there and make it easy for the average joe or joan to relate to and understand . Thank goodness there are some good meds out there that help you and others that are smart enough to use them. Good work. Casey