Campus ConversationOpinion

Opinion: The stigma on anti-depressants and why students aren’t seeking help

Photo courtesy of Lil Artsy

As a young female, I have been predisposed since birth, riddled with anxiety for as long as I can remember. 

In a world emerging from its unprecedented pandemic, grappling with a destructive social media craze and seemingly on the verge of WWIII, mental health is understandably at a low for young adults.

A CDC survey from last year found that over 60% of 18-24 year old Americans reported symptoms of anxiety and/or depression, and that number was on the rise.

Yet, thankfully, mental health services are readily available if not more than ever. 

Therapy, for example, has not only become more widely accepted but has turned into somewhat of a societal fad. Medication, on the other hand, still lags behind culturally, partially due to stigma, which is slowly being lessened, but also because of barriers due to costs and insurance.

Regarding medication, my mother once said, “Why be unhappy if you don’t have to be?”

[Stigma surrounding anti-depressant medication is still prevalent among young adults even though college students often struggle with mental health issues.]
Photo courtesy of Lil Artsy

Only 1 in 8 adults seek medication as a mental health treatment. That’s only 10.4% of the population taking advantage of this resource. 

In a society where medication is practically universal, many choose to opt out. This is due in part to the unhinged stigma against medication. 

In a social media survey out of an average of 152 students, 68% agreed that there is a large stigma around medication. Out of the 152 students, 88% shared they struggle with anxiety and 77% struggle with depression. However, only 27% reported actually taking medication for their struggles. 

An article published by PubMed explains that there is a clear correlation between the stigma of antidepressant-like medication and the attitude of appearing emotionally weak.

Sophomore graphic design major Dominic Giuffrida explained another stigma stemming from “pill pushers” in his hometown. 

“I never went to therapy for my anxiety because I didn’t want to be prescribed anything,” Giuffrida said. “A lot of my friends took advantage of their prescribed medication and I just don’t want to take that chance.”

As addiction has become a dominating epidemic, the hesitancy that comes with prescribed medication is valid. However, doctors believe that antidepressants and anxiety-related medications aren’t seen as addictive in the usual sense. Instead, a sense of dependency related to the feeling of increased serotonin levels is much more normal. 

However, medication can be one of the only answers especially when it comes to the brain’s chemical imbalance. Medication such as antidepressants and/or anxiety-related medication can help regulate the neurotransmitters and the lack thereof within the brain. 

Neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin have a large impact on regulating things in the brain like mood, sleep and appetite. Flawed neurotransmitters can lead to conditions like anxiety, depression, schizophrenia and borderline personality disorder (BPD). 

This is what medication is made for. 

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs, for example, have become the most commonly prescribed antidepressant. SSRIs help treat depression and severe anxiety disorders by generating more serotonin in the brain in which it previously lacked.

Towards the end of December, my own depression hit like a train. As I was already on anxiety medication, my psychiatrist recommended an SSRI. 

Almost immediately, my mood shifted. 

I was able to tear myself out of bed every day. My 3 naps a day turned into none and the smiles were long overdue.  

As a first-hand, medicated student, I am a strong advocate for not only medication destigmatization but its overall consideration in general. 

Putting away toxic fads and predisposed judgments is a step in the right direction.
“What if we lived in a world where seeking help was considered as noble as offering help?” writes Eric Landrum, President of The International Honors Society in Psychology (Psi Chi) and chairman of the psychology board at Boise State.

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