Let’s Talk About Mental Health and Medications

I’m not unique. Like 18.1% of people over 18 (ADAA), I’ve struggled with an anxiety disorder since high school, and this month was additionally diagnosed with depression. While I could write about the experience of dealing with mental health issues at Duke, that is not what I want to accomplish. Someone needs to be talking about taking medications.

I started taking medications this month, and it’s become the “elephant in the room” among my family and friends. No one knows exactly what to say, and no one really gets how they work. The misconceptions around medications have not only stifled conversations with the people in my life but made me uneasy with myself. Here’s what I want to say:

How Meds Work: There are two main groups for treating anxiety and depression disorders: SSRIs and Benzodiazepines. SSRIs (Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) are your classic antidepressants that, over the course of 2-6 weeks, increase serotonin, the thing that carries chemical messages between brain cells. Benzodiazepines are used to calm down, blocking excessive nervous activity in the brain. You’ve probably heard of Xanax. Most people with anxiety and depression disorders take both: the benzos for getting through the day, and the SSRIs for long term changes. Also, most patients also participate in CBT, cognitive-behavioral therapy. CBT is meeting with a therapist, specifically focused on finding techniques and solutions to help cope with and eventually conquer the disorder.

What I wish others knew: Mental health disorders are not only emotion-caused and not only biologically-caused. It’s often a cocktail of life events and stressors plus genetic vulnerability and other brain issues. People who take medications do not have “more serious” mental health problems than people who don’t take medications. Therapy (CBT) is effective; medications are just an extra step some patients need to help therapy be more effective. And therapy can be beneficial for anyone; you do not need to have an officially diagnosed disorder to seek therapy.

What I’m learning: It shouldn’t be, but taking pills for my disorders is some weird blow to my pride. I’m still hard on myself for having to use something to get through the day, but I understand that my lifestyle is not permanently damaged. There’s nothing weak about needing help or needing to step away from life for a bit. It has been almost embarrassing though to admit I’m taking medications to friends, to be disqualified from participating in certain activities or studies, and to duck into the bathroom to take pills like a secret drug addict. It’s new and weird and scary.

Mental health is serious and important. I think we get that now. I think the problem is we--and I do use “we” here very intentionally to include myself--do not know exactly how to approach talking about certain aspects of mental health treatment. I think talking to the people I trust and love about what I’m experiencing helps reinforce that I have a support network, but that circle is very small because, despite progress towards mental health care and awareness, I’m still so nervous and uncomfortable. My hope is maybe we can start this new dialogue about mental health and take away the “weirdness” and “scariness” of treatment.



My Sources:


My Abnormal Psychology Class (Psych 105) highly recommend