Anxiety medication does not erase personality

As managing editor of The Lamron, I come across a variety of differing perspectives while editing articles for publication—opinions that I may not agree with. This occurred most recently—and most profoundly—for me with the article “Equating mental and physical illness pressures medication use” in the Thursday March 31 issue. I cannot emphasize enough how troubling and disheartening it was to read a piece that centers on ignorant disparagement of the use of psychiatric medication to treat anxiety.

As an individual who benefits immensely from taking anti-anxiety and depression medication—and who knows a myriad of wonderful, unique individuals who do the same—let me first address the writer’s claim that the use of psychiatric drugs to treat anxiety may “result in the partial or even total erasure of one’s personality.”

This is an antiquated, dangerous misconception surrounding psychiatric medication to help treat mental illness: that it will turn you into some kind of dependent zombie devoid of any uniqueness or personality. The imposition of this ignorant belief perpetuates stigma that may very well turn struggling individuals away from trying this form of treatment for fear of the best parts of who they are suddenly being destroyed. The only thing that psychiatric medication truly changes is brain chemistry, not a person’s character.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness explains that psychiatric medication works by “influencing the brain chemicals regulating emotions and thought patterns” and that anti-anxiety medications specifically “work solely to reduce the emotional and physical symptoms of anxiety.”

While anti-anxiety medication doesn’t completely eviscerate all symptoms of mental illness, it can help to assuage and limit the physical signs of anxiety attacks along with helping the individual achieve a greater state of mental and emotional stability. For me, my medication helps me feel significantly more in control of my anxiety and more adept at handling my day-to-day activities and stressors. I’m still myself on my medication, just a more capable, rational and generally happier version.

Plenty of other individuals have cited the usage of psychiatric medication as beneficial as well, something poignantly demonstrated in a Oct. 1, 2015 Think Progress article entitled “How one Woman is Fighting the Stigma of Mental Health Meds.” Blogger Erin Jones made an incredibly well-received Facebook post—spurring the “#MedicatedandMighty” movement promoting open support and display of personal psychiatric medications—that showed her prescriptions for anxiety and antidepressant medications.

Jones wrote, “I have tried living this life without prescription help. It seems to have me on top of the world one minute and rocking in the corner the next ... Anxiety and antidepressant medication to the rescue. Sometimes, folks, we just need help.” Jones’ post reasserts the crucial idea that there is no shame in taking medication for mental illness and it helps to educate others on the real purpose of psychiatric medication.   

The editorial in question asserts that addressing mental illnesses such as anxiety disorders shouldn’t be treated with a “one-size-fits-all approach”—which is a statement I firmly support—but this claim is contradicted later in the article by condemning the use of psychiatric medication as a viable means of dealing with one’s anxiety. If handling anxiety can—and should—be looked at as something that is differently handled according to personal choice and circumstance, then a piece attacking pro-medicine approaches while implying that non-medication methods are superior is incredibly hypocritical.

If a person wants to use medication to treat their anxiety, that’s totally fine. If a person doesn’t want to use medication, that’s fine too. But what isn’t fine is the blind condemnation of psychiatric medication as a means to combat mental illness. You can’t ignore the fact that so many individuals have—and can—publicly attest to the way anti-anxiety medication helps them live more fulfilling, stable and happier lives.