How I got honest mental health discussion trending around the world with #MedsWorkedForMe
They're not 'happy pills'. They're 'wouldn't be here otherwise' pills.
Antidepressants work. That's the unequivocal conclusion of a lengthy study published in the Lancet, and the anecdotal experience of many.
Yet there's still a stigma. There's still a perception of weakness, of brokenness, of necking 'happy pills'. On the day the study came out, I'd seen an ironically depressing number of people poking fun at people who take tablets, piling on the shame, and trying to suggest that you could mind-over-matter your way out of serious mental health issues.
And I wasn't having it.
When I was five years old, my dad dealt with his mental health issues by getting into our family car and breathing fumes until he died. This is what happens when you make speaking up embarrassing, when you make men feel like they have to be strong and fearless. That was the 90s, and we've come a long way since then, but no way in hell was I having anyone shamed out of seeking help by uninformed idiots on Twitter who think SSRIs are free recreational Smarties. I had to speak up, and create something visible to let people know they weren't alone.
I'd already tweeted a few times about the study, talking about my own experience with antidepressants. Someone replied using the phrase 'Meds worked for me,' and it struck me as a pithy way to express what I was trying to say. It's not all-encompassing -- 'meds work for everyone' -- or hyperbolic -- 'everyone should take meds' -- it's just truthful. Meds worked for me. They did, and do. So I turned it into a hashtag, put it out there, and by the end of the day it was the UK's top trending topic as well as trending in cities around the world.
This isn't by some virtue of mine. It's because there are thousands and thousands of people in the world who saw the same study and needed to talk without judgment about their mental health journeys -- not just with antidepressants but treatments for ADHD, anxiety, OCD, bipolar and many more. As the hashtag took off, people with all kinds of conditions shared their stories, their pathways to treatment, what worked for them and what didn't. Not all had found a medication that worked for them, but many were still trying, and were cheered on by seeing others who'd tried two, three, four, eight before finding one that gelled with their brain chemistry.
Twitter is a very public forum, and understandably not everyone wanted to share their story under their real name. So people DMed me their stories, and I tweeted them anonymously on their behalf. This added some really interesting dimensions to the discussion that you don't often hear about -- the effects of SSRIs on libido, for instance, and what you can do about it.
Of course, we got some trolls and misinformed people replying on the hashtag. Some people were keen to point out that meds hadn't worked for them, and that's absolutely fine -- but the people tweeting humans in real distress telling them to "man up" and worse were disappointing. Thankfully, they were in the extreme minority.
More common were the (presumably) well-meaning people trying to shoehorn their agenda into the conversation. Lots of anger about pharmaceutical companies and their ethics (not really a priority to someone who's dying from depression), lots of talk about prayer and positivity (by all means pray if you want, but its efficacy relative to pills is… unproven), and most infuriating of all, lots of suggestions to 'just exercise' or 'just go for a walk' until your brain fixes itself.
I'm going to take a quick detour here to address this sort of bullshit, because I'm sick of hearing it, and so is everyone else with a mental health issue.
Stop. Telling. Depressed. People. To. Exercise.
I'm sure you mean well. I'm sure you genuinely think you're handing over some kind of golden ticket to health that the poor depressed sapling just hasn't thought of. But you're not. What you're doing is the equivalent of seeing someone come off their bike on the road, and instead of running over to offer first aid, greeting them with "hey, have you tried a bit of yoga? Did wonders for my dodgy ankle, it did."
These people have serious medical conditions that need clinical attention. Yes, exercise can help under the right conditions, but telling someone who is often unable to get out of bed, shower, or dress themselves that they should just go for a run is ignorant at best, callous at worst. Keep it to yourself.
Now I've got that off my chest, I'd like to share just a few example tweets from the hashtag:
Amazing hashtag, great to encourage more open discussion of mental health issues - been way too much suffering in silence. #MedsWorkedForMe & saved my life, more than once. If you experienced intense physical pain, you'd medicate. We need to look at mental health in the same way. https://t.co/xIJ6KkYOnU
— ★ZOË HOWE★ (@zoehowe) February 22, 2018
My brain is a whizzing supercomputer of generalised anxiety and brilliant ideas, and it has taken a lot of prescription SSRIs and SNRIs and some decent psychotherapy to figure out how to work it properly. #MedsWorkedForMe https://t.co/0w37XMIruF
— Sara Tasker (@meandorla) February 22, 2018
So @holly started a hashtag, #medsworkedforme. If they did, join in. As for me, I was diagnosed with depression and an anxiety disorder - much of it with a family history - in 2000. Venlafaxine gets me out of bed and able to think straight. It's saved my life.
— Mike Stuchbery 💀🍷 (@MikeStuchbery_) February 22, 2018
Used to think meds would never work for me because docs kept putting me on every SSRI under the sun (to horrible results). I'm on Wellbutrin now and I'm not sure why I didn't get on it sooner. #MedsWorkedForMe
— Andrea Romano (@theandrearomano) February 22, 2018
This is so true. Life has completely changed since I started taking Meds. It's nice not to just sit in my car not knowing where to go and not really wanting to go anywhere, dreading going home, to work, to eat. #MedsWorkedForMe
— Matt Brandenburg (@brandenburgdm) February 22, 2018
There are thousands more. If you'd like to hear about the ways meds have worked for people, what they had to try first, and how their lives have changed since finding the right combination of medicine, take a look at the top tweets here and all tweets here. It's illuminating, even for me -- and I started the thing.
If you have a #MedsWorkedForMe story to share, I'd love to hear it. It's not trending anymore, but the need for honest discussion around mental health will never go away.