Medication stigma and overcoming the shame of societies blame

I was happy to see that Autistic Inclusive Meets have restarted the #ShowUsYourMeds campaign. Campaigns like this are essential in normalising the life-saving medication that so many of us rely on day-to-day.

Stigma surrounding the use of medication, in particular for the treatment of mental health issues, is still widely prevalent in society, with many people feeling a great deal of shame over the use of medication.

Where does this shame come from?

A good place to start is the misunderstanding between being reliant on a medication for your wellbeing, and addiction to a drug. So many people conflate supervised prescription drug use with addiction that it (quite frankly) makes me sick.

Not only does this diminish the very real and terrifying experiences that addicts face every day, but it places a moral objection towards safe prescription medication use on the patient. It’s not just laypeople that do this either. Doctors will happily label people as “drug-seekers” for asking for treatment for very real and debilitating conditions. This particular form of stigma will not change until we move away from the moral judgment of addiction and substance use as a society.

Toxic positivity is also a very real issue when it comes to med-shaming. Attitudes that suggest one should consider all the people who live with a so-called “worse” situation serve absolutely no one. Such attitudes lead to people remaining silent, and ultimately, dying. You don’t have to be grateful for your suffering. Suffering is subjective. It is impossible to judge who has it worse.

Another popular way of invalidating those who need medication is to claim that you experience the same thing, and that you just need to “push through it”. This is a common myth that is trotted out by people with little to no understanding of mental and/or chronic physical health problems. Mental health problems in particular are invalidated in this way. Completely ignoring that many of those conditions change the physical structure of the brain. You can’t just push through it. This is another good way of killing people.

Also, let’s not forget the institionalised patient-blame placed on people. Refusal to treat a person because they can not engage in the expected way is first and foremost, an act of systemic violence and oppression based on deepy ingrained ableism. This is a problem that affects neurodivergent people in particular, for whom services rarely design themselves with them in mind.

The truth is, I could list a thousand reasons why people are shamed into not taking medication, but it won’t change the truth.

Taking medication is vital for a huge number of people around the world. Denying a person access to medication, or shaming them into not taking it, is an act of aggression and violence. People literally die without their medication. Shame belongs firmly on the shoulders of the people shaming ill people into not taking their meds.

I refuse to be ashamed of my medication. It keeps me well. I would be dead without it. Yes, the side-effects have been unbearable at times, but it’s necessary for me to stay alive. I do not have the privilege of chosing not to take my meds.

Anyone out there feeling like their medication is a shameful secret; I see you, and I promise you have nothing to be ashamed of. Stay well, drink lots of water, and take your meds.

Published by David Gray-Hammond

David Gray-Hammond is an autistic mental health and addiction advocate living in the South East of England. He is in recovery from addiction and psychosis, as well as other complex mental health conditions. He was diagnosed as autistic seven months after achieving sobriety, and is resolved to share his experiences with the world in the hopes of being the person that he needed when he was younger.

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