Not a day goes by without a viral TikTok or Instagram trend, and last weekend was no exception. Former Love Island star - and Mental Health Ambassador for the government - Dr Alex George (yes, a legit doctor who works at my local hospital), admitted to his 2M followers that he takes medication for his anxiety with this post, and consequently, kicked off a #trending social media campaign.
The #PostYourPill movement was literally what it says on the tin. It garnered a lot of attention and saw people taking to social media to post photos of their mental health medication in response. While these images did not flood my social media feeds – is everyone on my Instagram doing just fine?! - upon clicking onto Dr Alex’s profile, it was clear to see that many others were sharing, tagging and mentioning the Influencer with new-found confidence.
You might think that it’s not a big deal. How does posting a photo help? Were people just jumping on the bandwagon for clout? Or perhaps you might question whether he had an ulterior motive (reading comments in response to his confession, some suspected it was because he hadn’t been in the papers all that much recently…). But Dr Alex said it was because he wanted to end the stigma people often face when admitting to taking pills to aid their mental health. While learning about and treating his mental health, he's all too aware that people are hesitant to share this information about themselves. So, he has set himself a mission: to ensure people are not ashamed to ask for help and to understand that it’s not a sign of weakness but, in fact, quite the opposite.
From scrolling through the #PostYourPill hashtag, it’s clear to see that mental health does not discriminate. (The award for most incredibly obvious point to make goes to me). But, regardless, what struck me about the diversity shown through my phone screen is that mental health is incredibly inclusive. From Influencers to young people and everyone in between, it drove home how far-reaching negative mental hygiene is and can be. And with all these people sharing #PostYourPill, it demonstrates that a large chunk of our population has more than just an ‘off day’, surviving on round or cylindrical-shaped medicine as they go about their daily lives.
Out of those who take medication, not everyone has faced discrimination. Luckily, I can include myself in that group. But what I can empathise with is not talking about the fact you take medication, hiding the pills away, discreetly taking them without any acknowledgement and just getting on with life, even though you’ve had a boost of serotonin in pill-form that morning. It feels like a secret, and sadly, not a juicy one. I’ve always found it interesting how you’d drop something like this into a conversation. It’s not that I’m hiding the fact I take Sertraline, it’s just not come up and so I’ve not offered it up.
A recent report by the NHS Business Services Authority found that ‘more than 20 million antidepressants were prescribed between October and December 2020 – a 6% increase compared with the same time period in 2019.’ To be honest, I thought it would be much higher – Thanks, Covid. As a result of this finding, The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) stated that Doctors should look to prescribe therapy, mindfulness or exercise, before jumping straight to medication as the first port of call. From this, NICE concocted a (non-delicious sounding) menu of treatment for various forms and stages of mental health issues, with the emphasis placed on collaboration between patient and professional. It’s great to see that patient choice is being considered but surely the reason you’ve summoned up the courage to see a professional in the first place is for their professional advice, not to just continue business as usual with the odd jog thrown in.
I can see the rationale behind NICE’s thinking but, two things: firstly, the NHS wait times for therapy are incredibly long and arduous and secondly, it suggests that mental health medication should be avoided, further adding to the stigma surrounding them. Telling people to wait for therapy could do more harm than good and, for many, the only immediate support is drugs.
Personally, you can do all the running you want, colour in as many mindfulness books as you like but, at the end of the day, you’re still the same person with the same brain. Yes, medication isn’t for everyone. But, for some, it works. And for me, the benefits massively outweigh the side effects – night sweats are no mean feat, but at least I know I won’t cry at the drop of a hat the next morning or become incredibly overwhelmed when my train is late. Don’t get me wrong, medication isn’t a magical one size fits all approach. I’m still trying to overcome certain issues, but my brain now feels a little more rested and a little less busy with worry, all thanks to a tiny pill. Medication can and does truly help.