Why Can’t We Talk About Mental Illness?

I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety a few years ago. In reality, I had probably had anxiety for a number of years. I was put on medication and after a few weeks felt better than I had in years. But I didn’t come out and tell my husband about it.

I left the medication bottle on the bathroom counter and figured if he was curious, he’d ask.

Fast forward about six months, and I casually mentioned something about my medication and my husband was appalled. He couldn’t understand why I would need medication to be happy. I should note that I’m a pharmacist, so I had an entire class dedicated to learning about how mental illness is caused by chemical imbalances that a person has no control over. Medication helps with these imbalances. Despite knowing this, I still hesitated to talk about it. My husband is not a pharmacist and simply responded in the way that the general public sees mental illness.

My husband didn’t understand why I continued to need medication, but not much was said about it. Fast forward another year, and I’m now pregnant. I stopped my antidepressant. I was worried about the potential (although small) risk to my unborn baby, and I was starting to believe my husband and think maybe I didn’t need medication to be happy. I was okay until my second trimester. At that point I started to notice my anxiety getting worse, I knew I needed my medication, but I ignored that.  By my third trimester, I had a complete breakdown. My depression and anxiety came back full force.

My husband had never seen me like this, but he finally understood why I took the medication.

This seems to be all too common of an occurrence. Why is mental illness not talked about? Why must people reach an incredible low before those around them accept the need for medication? Depression, anxiety, OCD, bipolar disorder, PTSD and other mental illnesses are just that—illnesses. They should be no more taboo than diabetes or thyroid disorders. We need to be open and talk about these illnesses to provide support and understanding for those suffering.  Mental illness isn’t just something you can “snap out of”—it’s a chemical imbalance that requires professional treatment.

For me, after having my breakdown, I went back on my medication and returned to normal. After pregnancy, I was also proactive with increasing the dose of my medication as soon symptoms returned. This was a large part of preventing postpartum depression. I already knew that I had tendencies towards depression and anxiety, but for some women, the first time they experience symptoms severe enough to seek treatment is during the postpartum period. Many women struggle silently with postpartum depression because they assume there is something wrong with them because they aren’t incredibly happy and in love with their new baby, or they don’t realize that extreme anxiety can indicate postpartum depression.

For the sake of moms, babies, and everyone with mental illness, we need to stop the stigma and start talking about it.

My call is for those with an illness to share their story and for those without to increase your understanding of mental illness being an illness like diabetes.  Let’s work together to start talking about mental illness.

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