A Pill by Any Other Name
I can take a pill for an erection and get sympathy for my condition. But if I take a pill that balances the chemicals in my brain, I’m considered mentally ill. Why is it that some pills are acceptable, and others are highly stigmatized? How is one medication different than another when they are all designed to help or heal a physical condition in the human body?
A Tale of Two Pills
Sildenafil, otherwise known as Viagra, has been approved for medical use in the U.S. since 1998. It is a medication designed to help with erectile disfunction in men and over 2 million prescriptions are filled each year. Here’s the rub: in the first decade of its use alone, Viagra was implicated in 1,824 deaths – primarily from heart attacks.
Lithium Carbonate is one of the safest modern medications and over 3 million prescriptions are filled each year. It has been in use for the treatment of mental disorders since at least 1948 and I have yet to find a single study that implicates Lithium in any fatality when taken in prescribed doses and properly monitored.
So how is it that a medication designed for the pursuit of male physical pleasure that has a known risk of death is more socially acceptable than one of the safest medications in the modern age? Granted there are quite a few Lithium-related songs and other cultural media creations that might make Lithium seem cool as a concept, but the underlying reasons for taking Lithium are highly stigmatized: bipolar and depression disorders.
The Brain is an Organ
The brain is not the mythical core of our consciousness. It is just a huge bundle of neurons, chemicals, and chemical receptors that work together on infinite levels for us to function. The brain is the most complex organ in the body and the core of what makes us human. I focus on the word organ here as it is important to think of the brain as just another organ in the body – that is the key to eliminating the stigma associated with treatments.
The top medications prescribed in the U.S. include those for hypothyroidism, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. The thyroid, heart, liver, and pancreas are all essential organs to our daily function. How much more so the brain – which controls all these organs?
The brain is an organ just like any other organ in the body – except that it happens to be the most important one. Many of us with mental health issues have a unique underlying brain structure that results in the chemical imbalance. It’s no different than when the pancreas gets imbalanced and no longer produces insulin. Instead, it’s a section of the brain that gets imbalanced and no longer produces dopamine.
Take a Pill
We all take pills for one reason or another – there are pills for everything now. Congested, take a pill. Can’t sleep, take a pill. Heartburn, take a pill. Drink milk, take a pill. Have gas, take a pill. Have toe fungus, take a pill. High blood pressure, take a pill. Diabetes, take a pill. And on it goes. Not to mention there are even ongoing studies to find a pill to cure male pattern baldness.
I can have plastic surgery, implants, lip filler, butt filler, botox, facelifts, and more procedures then I can count that alter my skin and other organs. This is socially acceptable and, in many cases, encouraged. I can alter any organ on my body and there is less stigma associated with that then if I take a medication designed to alter my brain.
Orgasms vs. Sanity
Viagra is an unnecessary pill for daily human function. Yes, as a male I do certainly enjoy my orgasms, but that is not a reason for living. Viagra is a first-world benefit – having the luxury to have enough time and money to spend on getting erections. An erection is not necessary as a function of daily human interaction. But sanity is.
Lithium and other psychiatric medications provide the stability needed for those of us with these issues to exist in better harmony with other humans. They are part of the treatment we use to better ourselves. We are just as normal as anyone else taking any other medications and we should be treated as such.
I have been denied life insurance three times now based on the medications and diagnoses I have disclosed on our home page. Yet I can take a pill for an erection and be covered. That makes no sense.
(For the record, I am not in any way downplaying the greatness of erection medication for those who need it. If you are one of those who have the medical support to have happy sex, then by all means do so. I am merely using this example to illustrate the hypocritic stigma that exists when we take psychiatric medication.)