As a struggling teen, I read and watched endless media that attempted to tackle the topic of mental illness in teens, hoping to find some sort of relatability. Only recently have I realized that this media wasn’t necessarily made for people with depression as much as for those with people in their life experiencing it. Most of the media I interacted with at that time did not leave me comforted but with a feeling of hopelessness for myself and my future. Specifically, my favorite wallowing book was “All The Bright Places,” which is a romance of sorts between two suicidal teens. Unfortunately, one of the characters does end their life and the final chapter leaves the reader with the horribly common, harmful sentiment that mental illness is inherently romantic and, if you suffer the correct way, you can be a tragic inspiration to others.
Not only does this message stigmatize those who struggle with mental illness, but it can also deter them from seeking necessary treatment such as therapy and antidepressant medication. There are many prejudiced misconceptions about antidepressants in daily life and even professional medical practices, such as that antidepressants will give you intolerable side effects, that they’re ineffective, or that they will alter your feelings and personality. To the misinformed, antidepressants leave you a shell of a person, dull and vacant-eyed. This couldn’t be further from my experience.
After years of burying my feelings under a mountain of denial and continuing on regardless, my mental illness caught up with me in 2021 and reintroduced itself in a way that I could no longer ignore. It manifested physically and mentally, my every thought and action controlled by relentless fear and panic. Every suggestion that all I was missing was “self-care” in the form of a little bit of yoga, three glasses of water, or a listen to *insert Sad Girl album here* left me despairing and exhausted. A temporary Band-Aid slapped overtop a downward spiral only goes so far. And what happens next, when you have to go on, wake up every morning, and live the rest of your life?
Let it be said that antidepressants are not an end-all cure-all – they are often locked behind barriers such as the healthcare system, and certain prescriptions won’t work for everyone. But, for me, no amount of self-care or self-love can replace the effects of my daily ten milligrams of Lexapro, which keeps me functioning as best as it can. There’s just nothing quite like pinpointing an instance that would have previously garnered a depressive spiral or anxiety attack, reveling in the feeling of progression, and just going about your day.
It doesn’t mean that life is easy or that I’m never unhappy. The purpose of this little white pill is just that, maybe, a depressive episode doesn’t lead to hitting rock bottom. Maybe everything good that happens in life doesn’t have to be tainted by an eternal twinge of despair that follows like a sour aftertaste. Maybe, when you decide to watch the movie adaptation of “All The Bright Places,” you don’t indulge or decide to wallow and instead shut it off in disgust.
Art by Jos Bronner