BY: NADIA ZAIDI
Mental illness is one of the most underrated diseases.
Let me explain.
We might be more aware of its intricacies, sensitivities, and widespread prevalence. National and global campaigns may incite greater acceptance towards those with mental illness, but it’s not advocated with the same zeal and compassion like physiological diseases often are.
Let’s face it, we seldom hear about ground-breaking treatments for diseases of the mind.
The perception that only the rich can afford to be depressed still holds much credence. People aren’t generally as sympathetic or receptive to psychological pains, despite increased awareness.
According to the National Institutes of Mental Health, a quarter of American adults are affected by depression and anxiety disorders each year. That’s a huge segment of the population.
Mental illness is a silent killer. It hurts in all the right places and doesn’t discriminate against its victims.
What makes psychological disorders more precarious is the irresponsible handling by those in white coats. Prescribing the wrong medication to someone with anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or schizophrenia is like pouring gasoline on a burning house. It only compounds the problem. And you know what? I’ve been there.
I went through a period of anxiety after a parent of mine suffered a major health scare. I experienced bouts of insomnia and when sleep deprivation couldn’t be alleviated by coffee, I decided I needed help.
Soon I was introduced to the world of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI). I decided to have blind faith in a trusted practitioner. After all, when I’m sick I don’t wonder whether the penicillin will take away my strep throat.
If you’re not familiar with SSRIs, they are the most commonly prescribed antidepressants. Think of names like Prozac or Zoloft.
The first day after taking an antidepressant I had an out-of-body experience. I learned that antidepressants cause a myriad of unpleasant side effects like headaches, dizziness, changes in appetite, and even changes in behaviour. Beyond the discomforts of getting used to the medication, I began to feel inundated with more anxiety – a type I never experienced.
I also learned that it gets worse before it gets better. But truthfully, it shouldn’t have to. The point is that I didn’t need an antidepressant for a bout of insomnia and general levels of anxiety during a stressful time. It just wasn’t that deep.
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2015 revealed that 45 per cent of depression medications in Canada were prescribed for conditions like insomnia, pain, and anxiety. The study tracked patient visits from 2006 – 2015, and revealed that out of those who were prescribed an anti-depressant, only 55 per cent were given it for actual depression.
We can entertain theories of pharmaceutical sponsorship, a lack of data on negative clinical testing, or psychiatry and its bias toward prescription. But does any of this point to solutions?
If doctors are adequately trained to recognize the difference between a serious or actual mental illness from a low phase, it might not reach the level of referral to begin with.
At some point or the other, we all might experience the feelings associated with a mental illness. We rely on the diligence and discretion of our practitioners to determine when those feelings or sensations are abnormal.
Your mind can be your friend or foe. It is the most powerful tool we own. It’s also the most dangerous. There is no magic pill for mental illness; if only it were that simple. There is absolutely no shame in taking an anti-depressant because you have a mental illness that requires prescription intervention.
All I know is that I didn’t, and at some point, we must question the white paper.