Today the BBC published an article on ‘pill shaming‘, asking for us to put end to it.
In short, it depicts a young woman talking about how certain people in her life (her family, friends and some strangers) have made her feel about taking antidepressants. Some implied that she should ‘try harder to make herself better’, others said she is ‘weak for taking the pills’ or ‘why not just eat better’.
What was so important for me about this film is that for the first time a clear definition of ‘pill shaming’ seems to emerge – namely, the act of disparaging or shaming people for either taking or wanting to take antidepressants (e.g. calling them weak, asking them to try harder etc.). In fact, the BBC goes one step further by offering us an explicit definition of pill shaming: the act of making others ‘feel guilty for taking medication for their mental health’.
I like this definition, because, according to it, I would agree that what is being called ‘pill shaming’ is both wrong and indeed does happen. In fact, the sad thing is that this phenomenon is not just restricted to taking pills. We all know examples of what we could call ‘therapy shaming’ or ‘mindfulness shaming’ or ‘counselling shaming’. In short, whenever someone is shamed for simply trying to help themselves (especially if they believe the intervention works) we should call that behaviour out.
Insofar as the term ‘pill-shaming’ is used in the above manner, then, I believe it may have its place. Where I believe it clearly has no place, is when it is used indiscriminately to either misrepresent, dismiss or discourage legitimate criticism of drugs (a mistake which, thankfully, the BBC does not make in its video). I say this because, unfortunately, and in the past, the ‘shaming’ epithet has been used in precisely this loose or ad hominem fashion; in an attempt to lump important criticism into the category of subtle abuse. This is achieved by either explicitly mislabelling legitimate critique as ‘pill shaming’ or else more subtly implying that any legitimate evidence-based criticism of the drugs inevitably fuels or leads to pill shaming.
When the above strategies are deployed by those who feel they have to promote or defend the drugs, then it is also right that we call them out. New trending terms in mental health are neither here nor there – it is how they are used that counts.