I Shouldn’t Be Surprised By Lack Of Stigma

This weekend, I went for an eye test at a well-known supermarket. It’s something I’ve been avoiding for months. Partly due to cost, partly due to my struggle to do anything self-care related.

Anyway, this particular supermarket do eye tests for free, so I figured there was nothing to lose, so I finally booked an appointment and got myself down there.

As part of the eye test, they ask you what medications you’re on. This question comes up occasionally… at the dentist, when applying for a driving licence, when visiting a walk-in GP or seeing a new health worker. Whenever the question comes up, it feels like time stops for ten seconds. I can practically hear my heart beating in my ears. I debate whether or not I should disclose the whole list of medications that I’m on.

Being 23 and on a list of medications is hard. When that list contains mental health medications, it can feel really hard.

I worry about people judging me or treating me differently. I worry about how they look at me – sometimes with curiosity, sometimes like I am an alien, sometimes with those overly sympathetic ‘oh poor you’ eyes. I don’t quite know which look of these is worse. I don’t particularly enjoy any of them.

Anyway, during the eye test, he asked me what medications I was on. To begin with I was very vague. I always start with the medications I think they won’t have heard of, just to test the waters. So I did that, which resulted in the question ‘what’s that for?’. At that point, I realised I was going to have to go all-in, so I brought the list up on my phone (I can never remember them all), and gave him the full list of all my medications.

The optician was absolutely fantastic. He was kind. He didn’t treat me any differently at all. He even disclosed a little about his own mental health experiences. He took my medication history into consideration and really listened to me.

I left the appointment and began to think about it. I was just so surprised by his reaction – or rather lack of reaction. I was pleasantly surprised. It’s incredibly rare to meet anyone with no stigma, even in health settings (especially in health settings).

Then I began to think about it more, and actually, I shouldn’t have been surprised. I shouldn’t expect stigma. I shouldn’t have to worry about listing my medications. Whoever is talking to me, is speaking to exactly the same person both before and after they know that I need a bit of help in order to function.

Mental health medications are there to give a helping hand to those of us whose brains aren’t quite working as they should. I take asthma medications to help my lungs, I take mental health medications to help my brain. It’s no different.

When we have a mental illness, life is hard enough. We already spend our life doing our best to do normal human things, whilst battling a brain determined to kill us. We really don’t need additional problems on top of that. We really don’t need people to treat us differently. To speak to us like we’re stupid. To decide that we’re not worth their time. To look at us like we have three heads.

Occasionally, we might need certain allowances from people – but we will normally tell you if that’s the case! Until that point, just interact with us in the way that you would interact with anyone else.

We shouldn’t be surprised by lack of stigma, it should be normal.

Featured: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/naomibarrow/mental-health-stigma_b_17581494.html
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2 thoughts on “I Shouldn’t Be Surprised By Lack Of Stigma

  1. Hi Tahrey,

    I guess it’s up to us all individually how much we share. I don’t think that everyone should be on lots of different prescriptions but I also don’t think we should be afraid to say what meds we’re on when asked.

    Naomi

  2. Very true … though I do also fear it possibly swinging too hard the other way and a US style “everyone is on fifty different drugs” type culture becoming normalised.

    The professional attitude from the optician was probably because, well, he’s a health professional, even if in one of the more lightweight (but extremely necessary) disciplines. I’ve had a brush with that culture (unwillingly aborted career path towards being an MTO) and if you don’t have such a mindset and attitude towards the patients you see, you won’t get very far.

    General culture is hopefully changing for the better what with a lot of recent campaigns and education programmes, TV documentaries, etc, but it’s hard to be sure when in general the illness itself doesn’t exactly encourage you to open up about it to many people, or start going on about meds etc to anyone who doesn’t absolutely need to know. I’m sort of wary of doing so in case it turns out to have very much not worked, with unpleasant repercussions. The mood of the nation and world overall seems to be turning a touch hostile and intolerant all round almost like a backlash, it’s a bit scary. Just, so many stories of late where, never mind an expanded level of understanding and empathy, there are mass or frequent individual examples of people who just seem to lack normal human decency towards their fellows. It doesn’t prime someone to let their guard down, even with copious counterexamples of above-and-beyond behaviour countering it.

    Fingers crossed, though. There’s plenty of time left to run in the universe.

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