“If You Take Meds for Mental Illness, Do Not Feel Ashamed or Weak”

If you take psychiatric medications – or want to – these words written by a dear friend of mine, MaryElizabeth, might help you:

I feel compelled to say this. If you take meds for mental illness to help you stay alive, or just as importantly, to move from surviving to thriving, do not feel ashamed or weak.

You did not choose to have a mental illness any more than someone chooses to have epilepsy. Don’t quit your meds just because you hear that big pharma has a conspiracy to medicate everyone.

If your meds help you, take them.

If you are worse off by not taking them, then take them.

Taking meds isn’t an alternative to having a spiritual life, and having a spiritual life isn’t an alternative to taking meds. They are tools to be used in conjuction, not exclusive from one another. Just like eating well and exercise.

Meds alone sometimes are not enough to keep me well. Most often, my meds act like a ladder so I can access other tools, which I use in conjunction with medication.

Medication isn’t bad. Attitudes like that perpetuate the stigma of mental illness. Those who have mental illness often buy into the stigma just as much as those who don’t.

Stop it.

Stop shaming yourself.

Stop shaming others.

Medication isn’t something to ever be ashamed of.

And just because you feel better on meds doesn’t mean you are ready to get off them. The opposite is true. You feel better because you are on them.

I understand the desire to take as little medication as you need to be well, but that doesn’t mean that no medication is the answer. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone down that path, wanting to get off meds because I didn’t want to need them. But with age comes wisdom.

I choose to suffer as little as possible in this lifetime. I choose to thrive in this lifetime. If that requires medication to treat a condition I didn’t choose to have, I give gratitude every day that I live in a time and place where there are solid treatments that work.

This PSA is due to a dear friend who felt like he didn’t need medication for his psychosis, and we almost lost him yesterday.

If not taking meds makes you less safe, less happy, less fulfilled, then take your meds.


Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW, is the author of “Helping the Suicidal Person: Tips and Techniques for Professionals,” a psychotherapist and consultant, and an associate professor at the University of Denver Graduate School of Social Work.

© Copyright 2017 Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW, All Rights Reserved. Written by MaryElizabeth and posted with her permission on www.speakingofsuicide.com. All photos purchased from Fotolia.com.

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  1. juliana says:

    I was diagnosed about five weeks ago with ADD and Bipolar one by a Psychiatrist, diagnosed with GAD and depression since 2015 by my GP. I have been having a hard time getting used to my psych meds, as I was given Adderall for the ADD and Topamax as an addition for the Lexapro I was already taking for my Depression and GAD. It seems the Adderall is causing a lot of internal pressure inside of my head especially behind my eyes. He initially increased my dose after two weeks but went down to the initial dose because it seemed to be too much for me to handle.
    I have chosen to not tell my family about my diagnoses. My sister is aware of my depression, but not of the other diseases. She herself is in need of some form of psychiatric care herself, but won’t do it. This type of treatment won’t happen overnight, and well, they are baby steps, however, even baby steps do go forward.
    Right now, I’m trying really hard to get my life back together piece by piece, but the judgement of others makes it really hard, as I really have no support.
    For the past two years I’ve been working on getting disability, and this also takes a very long time. My psychiatrist said he will help me get this. I hope this will happen as I have been denied twice.

  2. Paul says:

    I do agree that medications that work best and at the proper level do improve the lives of people. I can say that I am alive because of this fact today. From a small child I have always used medications, and because of that I could breathe and my grandmother told me about the time that I was starting to turn blue due to lack of oxygen. That is because this is one of the things that Asthma does to people. I also have had ADHD since I was a child, and now days I am having a very difficult time getting proper treatment, and I am worried what am I to do when I lose everything in life that I live for because I am not able to even function well enough to file my tax returns and I for the most part sleep all day and not able to make it to any place in the morning unless I stay awake all night. I go to sleep and am not even able to hear the alarm. I know that is two seperate problems, but all three of these are a major problem for me because of concerns of stimulants with them I am functional and able to go on with my life, and without them I’m wondering if I will even have a life, or even a life worth living. I know there is a concern of abuse of drugs, and I see that there is more of a concern of that, than the fact that the limiting of them is destroying my life to the point that I can see that I will soon be better off dead. Stimulants if taken properly are never a problem as if they are taken in the morning or at the beginning of each day, then by the time they wear off then it is time for bed and then take them again in the morning the next day etc. This is using the medication to have a life, if someone is taking them to stay up for days at a time, they are abusing them and risking death. How do I find doctors that are willing to help me that do not think of me as as someone looking to abuse drugs, just this fact alone makes me wish I was never born into this world. I currently have IHEP for a heath provider, and if it did not cost thousands to get the tests that I have done already with another provider to get the medications that helped I would just pay out of pocket even though I am getting some disability.

  3. VICKI DAMICO says:

    Good Afternoon Stacey. I just saw your post and I wanted to respond to your statement. I reference my story because it serves as such a great example. At no time was my son sent to see anyone except general MD and the sleep doctor. No testing of any kind was done ever no blood nothing. Regardless of what his underlying issues was he never received the proper diagnosis instead received a Hugh abundance of Benzo’s and SSRI. When I say long term studies I am saying how can there be long term studies for products that say ” intended for short term use”. As in the case of Seroquel here is an example for seroquel. In January 2004, the FDA approved Seroquel for short term treatment of acute manic episodes associated with bipolar disorder (bipolar mania). In October 2006, the FDA approved Seroquel for bipolar depression. The United States alleges that AstraZeneca illegally marketed Seroquel for uses never approved by the FDA. Specifically, between January 2001 through December 2006, AstraZeneca promoted Seroquel to psychiatrists and other physicians for certain uses that were not approved by the FDA as safe and effective (including aggression, Alzheimer’s disease, anger management, anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, bipolar maintenance, dementia, depression, mood disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and sleeplessness). Here is a link to the entire lawsuit. https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/pharmaceutical-giant-astrazeneca-pay-520-million-label-drug-marketing. As in my case not knowing the under lying diagnoses of my son and the wrong medicine can have the wrong outcome. The bottom line is that education about the pros and cons of a drug along with the correct diagnose. I am not anti drug, if a care giver is truly doing what is recommended by the manufacture then the likelihood of a mistake is diminished. I am truly saddened by the cost I have paid to receive the education I now have.

    [This comment was edited to abide by the Comments Policy. – SF]

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      Thank you for this information, Vicki. Indeed, you have paid far too big of a price for an education you probably did not want. Again, I’m very sorry for your loss.

  4. Justinianus says:

    Hi, I’m a 15-year-old teen that’s taking pills for anxiety (Obsessive-Compulsive disorder). I’m not ashamed of that, but I’m so terrified of life that I’ve been thinking seriously about killing myself. Yesterday I cried a lot without reason.

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:


      That sounds very painful. Can you talk to the person who’s prescribing your medication about this? Also can you tell your parents, or another adult you trust like an aunt or uncle, teacher, minister/rabbi/imam, etc.

      You can always call the national suicide lifeline at 800.273.8255 (TALK) to talk with someone right away, any time of the day, if you want.

      You can also text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741.

      And you can find other resources for suicidal people on Speaking of Suicide’s Resources page.

      I really hope you’ll tell someone what you’re thinking and feeling, Justinianus. You can get help, and you can feel better!

    • vicki damico says:

      Hello: I have said in my first post that along with Anxiety pills the need for education for parents is totally what I am after. Pills are designed to ease the events that cause the cycle. Learning the triggers of the cycles are key. Not only learning the cycles but also being able to speak with your doctor about the things in your life that are triggering. Learning to recognize the triggers and learning to respond differently is the key. I believe.
      Pills alone can not fix this. Too bad some of our doctors don’t know this. and like in my son’s case the need for continued adjustment was always being done. In my son’s case he was given the mixtures on a continuous basis becasue he could not sleep, so my example is a great example of very serious meds being used for something other then what the intended use was.
      So many general MD’s are quick to prescribe when pills alone are not the answer.
      Your parents need to understand that the desire to take ones life is paramount and can be a direct side effect of the pills. Please get your family involved. Please ! Please have them call your doctor now and make the adjustment. Please I urge you please do not take your life. Please allow someone to get involved and help you. As a mother if my son had only said to me what you have said I would have stopped at nothing to do what it took. Please allow you family to help you.

  5. Anonymous says:

    This made me cry, but also helped me shift my perspective on taking my meds. Thank you.

  6. Vicki D'Amico says:

    thank you very much for speaking about this issue. As in our case the worse part for us was that a sleep doctor was administering very dangerous drugs for a sleep issue. during our son’s care we never knew what was being given, let alone the side effects of one drug but in his case there happened to be many. After his death and when I was able to get his records and go through them. I am sickened to see a sleep doctor continuing to administer such drugs and noting in his file that he was chronic and worsening and yet she just kept giving drugs on top of drugs. She would abruptly remove drugs like Seroquel then put him right back . At the time of his death he was withdrawing from Klonopin, Seroquel, Ambien, Propranalol . He was only 22 when he passed. If only I had known the side effects, what to watch for I would have been able to help him. because I did not have the education needed. I would love to see our laws changed to provide for proper education as a requirement. But HIPPA prevents that. I can tell you with out a doubt. a person taking meds can be told what to watch for however. Two days before my son died he and I spent the day together, he seemed a little down, nothing out of the ordinary. He talked about further plans goals and things he wanted to do. We ordered shoes and bought clothes. when we got home he asked me a question and as he was heading up the stairs to his room I answered him. Mike you can use your judgement, what does your heart tell you. Follow your heart. He turned around came down the stairs and said. ” No mom you don’t understand these drugs I’m on prevent me from feeling right and wrong I don’t feel.” I remember standing and watching him go back up stairs and feeling like omg he is in trouble but I don’t no what to do. I was unsure of what kind of trouble. But I knew something was wrong. He took his life two days later. I now know that if I had the education of what he was feeling I would know what to do now. I have had the privilege to sit with family’s telling my story and the last family I sat with the young daughter who is on the same combination of drugs , Seroquel & klonopin she said the same thing she does not feel anything not happy not sad . Her mother was there to learn info about the side effects of the drugs. She also learned that day about her daughter the same thing my son had shared with me about not being able to feel. The other missing link is that doctors are so quick to give pills, but when do we ever talk about the issues that are causing our unhappiness. Every Benzo and SSRI has a limit for how long to stay on it. Yet I have talked to people that have been on them for years. There’s no studies to support years. This all comes down to education about what your being given, education on what to expect and what to watch for.

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:


      I’m so sorry about your son’s death. You are doing untold good by using your family’s tragedy to help other families. Thank you.

      I do have one question for you. You note that there are no studies to support the use of antidepressants for years. However, several practice guidelines recommend long-term use of antidepressants for people with multiple episodes of moderate to severe depression. Do you have a study in mind that refutes those recommendations?

  7. Caz says:

    A brilliant post, and very well said as it’s easy to feel ashamed in my opinion from my own experience.

  8. Tore Nielsen says:

    They’ve helped me a great deal. Things aren’t rosy red, even with the pills, but they’ve made my anxiety and dark moods manageable.

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      That’s good news, Tore. I’m delighted you shared your positive experience, for others to see, because psychiatric medications get such a bad rap from many people.

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