More Support and Understanding Needed for People Wanting to Try a No-Meds Approach


I’m concerned about the medicalisation of life; over-prescribing and how sometimes normal difficult emotions are (mis)diagnosed as an illness requiring medication. I expressed this view on twitter and said how I think Dr Joanna Moncrieff does make some valid points. Immediately I was accused of pill shaming, lack of empathy and insulting people who suffer from real deep depression.

Here is the article in the Telegraph which triggered the twitter responses to me after the psychiatrist Dr Alex Langford had put up a link to a similar article – his blog about this topic is here. The media is often insensitive in its choice of language. I can see why ‘happy pills’ would annoy some people. This wasn’t my choice of words so I won’t try to defend a phrase I don’t use. ‘Happy Pills’ or ‘antidepressants? Call them what you will. They didn’t make me happy and they increased my depression. But adopting a critical approach to psychiatric medication does not automatically amount to criticising those who take pills. Isn’t the valid point being made in the Telegraph articles that there is over-prescribing, and sometimes the (mis)diagnosing of human experience for a ‘depressive illness’? The increase in prescriptions for depression gives rise to genuine concern and I think Joanna Moncrieff is right to point this out. I struggle to see how expressing my agreement with this makes me a pill shamer.

So what does pill shaming mean? ‘Pill shamers’, I am told, don’t understand what ‘real’ depression is and think it’s just a sad mood that can easily lift. But I do know, only too well, that suffering and despair is very real. It can be a devastating, gut-wrenching experience whether it’s a normal reaction (as in the normal grief process, to use just one example) or goes beyond our perception of what is ‘normal’. Pill shaming, I am told, means demeaning people who seek help and take pills for depression. Shaming and demeaning anyone for taking pills is something I would never do. (After all, I took pills, for depression and heaven knows what else, for five years). Maybe meds helps some people and not others. There is no shame in taking them or in not taking them (though hopefully both through informed decisions). But let’s not forget, too, that people choosing to come off pills are often told they’re ‘ill’ and have long been made to feel they are doing something wrong, dangerous or shameful in making that choice. More support and understanding is needed for people who do want to try a no meds approach.

I would have liked to engage in constructive debate about this important topic but found I couldn’t get beyond trying to defend my views against the strongly felt accusations of pill shaming. This has happened to others before, and often it silences people and hinders much needed discussion, as expressed in this blog here. I’m aware that speaking out against the use of medication and the medical model in psychiatry upsets and angers a lot of people, not only some psychiatrists but people undergoing psychiatric treatment. It is the latter group with whom I empathise and I hope I do always remain sensitive to their feelings in the ways in which I express my views. But I MUST speak out. People have been, and are being, harmed by the medicalisation of their problems. A rigid application of the medical model almost destroyed me. I’m not antipsychiatry, I’m anti-bullshit – and psychiatry did throw a lot of that at me.


Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.


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  1. I noticed when posting in forums and debating the medical model that people with the diagnosis of depression are usually the only and always the most dedicated defenders of the medical model.

    I have written that criticism of psychiatry is not the war on drugs or affiliated with the war on drugs that is very unpopular among me of people. We are not anti drug crusaders, most critics of psychiatry anyway are not.

    The war on drugs and pill shaming have a very similar message.

    Great article, I liked it.

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    • I’ve actually noticed that the biggest defenders of drugs are family members. That often makes me suspicious about their motives (some people would love to believe that your family always has your best interest in mind – sadly not always true) or their judgement. The only person who can say if they’re getting better is the person affected, period.
      As for the people themselves or sometimes their doctors – they often believe it’s the pill that helped them. They of course completely ignore the fact that it may well be a placebo effect (which in case of depression is particularly strong since depression is in fact as state of hopelessness) or they are just getting better spontaneously or due to other factors. Plus if they take the pill for longer and then try to get off their “depression” comes back 10X stronger – confirmation that they’re sick and the pills help. Not many of them have heard about withdrawal. I have a acquaintance who was on anti-depressants for years and each time he tried to stop (always abruptly) he went back to the black hole. It was a classic withdrawal reaction. In fact he was an insecure kind of guy with relationship problems who tried to cover it up by acting like a total jerk to women. Finally his psychologist weaned him of drugs and he also found a GF and suddenly not only wasn’t he depressed anymore but also turned out to be quote a nice guy. So much about the biological basis of depression.

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      • As a family member who was suspect from the beginning of resorting to meds, please understand that everyone’s situation is unique. There is a wild card of sorts, used often by psych staff and some reformers to stigmatize family of patients, to neutralize them from having any influence, with no regard for the fact that the patient , in a temporary crisis, may have in his family the best asset and source of critical collateral information possible against psychiatric abuse. This “parentectomy” is one tool of a worldview that, like any worldview, is built upon faith-based assumptions. I try to give the benefit of the doubt to people I don’t know well. A bias against family may be based on personal lived experience, may be the product indoctrination-the same message often repeated, or may be politically motivated.

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        • I know that. My family was intimidated into acting against my wishes because they were basically threatened that I will be held and drugged indefinitely unless they cooperate. I therefore can understand their actions but it does not make me any more hurt that my own family acted against me and my will, even if from the best of intentions. Generally though it’s the criminal system which allows a bunch of so called doctors to basically strip you of your human rights and force your loved ones to do their biding that has left me angry, disillusioned and traumatised.

          Nonetheless, family should not have the right to override patient’s wishes no more that the psychiatrists do as I know there are dysfunctional relationships and people who use that system to cover up abuse. Neither should they have the right to interrogate the patient’s relatives as a condition to let them see or take care of that person.

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    • It’s frustrating when people think that questioning and challenging psych drugs means being critical of those who take them. I don’t see myself as an ‘anti drug crusader’ but I do feel that for many people, safer options are needed.

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    • It’s frustrating when people think that questioning and challenging psych drugs means being critical of those who use them. I don’t see myself as an ‘anti drugs crusader’ but I do feel that, for many people, safer options are needed.

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  2. We have seen this here. It is a tactic of NAMI. When anyone starts criticizing psychiatry, they are attacked as keeping people from the help they desperately need, etc. I think very few real people would act like this. It is pretty well-known that NAMI and the drug companies engage in this tactic

    I have come across very few real people who would attack like this. If they are real. I think you should make you position clear and keep going.

    When raising questions such as this, it is very important not to be alone. Try to have someone, at least one other person, work with you on things like this. we used to say “one person is one person, but two people are a group.” When you stand alone, not only will you feel discouraged, but your audience will see you as an isolated complainer. Just one more person saying the same thing, and you will be taken more seriously.

    Believe me, I know. I am pretty outspoken, but even in this movement (or maybe I should say, especially in this movement) I have found myself standing alone, and it is very stressful.

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    • Did you say NAMI ?

      Check this out I started copy- pasting in all the names from NAMIs Exemplary Psychiatrist award winners list into “dollars for docs” and so far the all take drug company money !!

      Try it,

      List of NAMI award winners

      Has Your Health Professional Received Drug Company Money? Use this tool to search for payments.

      Its adding up to millions of dollars ! Shame shame shame on you NAMI – PHARMA !

      All the dishonesty, what a shame !

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    • I clashed with a NAMI-type lady on one forum before. She seemed fishy to me from her first post: had a very sneaky kind of style – very sympathetic (too much), giving a lot of “good” advice and then finishing it all up with “but the drugs are the best” kind of line. My bs detector went off and rightly so – later on I’ve realised that this is the identical style that NAMI has on its website. She ranted at me how I am shaming people with ADHD for taking meds while in fact I wrote no such thing. Funnily enough me and another forum member actually managed to shut her up (she wrote “You’re uninformed. I am done with this discussion” and never appeared again) after I offered her some facts (linked to peer reviewed studies, Nature’s review on ADHD meds and drug leaflet showing that ADHD drugs are indeed amphetamine, meth and related substances) and the other person brought up her relationship to people financed by drug companies.

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    • The drug companies have a lot to answer for. And, yes, standing alone when raising these questions can be very stressful and discouraging. As you say, it’s best if at all possible to link up with others who can understand and support us.

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  3. I am pretty much anti-pill for myself and all my nearest and dearest although I agree that it is a personal choice. Psychiatric medication has done a lot of harm in my family. Ativan damaged my mother’s last ten years; she tried desperately to get off it but never succeeded. In the process she drove my family up the wall. Olanzapine nearly killed my son; he wasn’t even told by the doctors that he had been put on an antipsychotic while he was hospitalised for septicaemia. Had he known, he would have refused. He found it impossible to get off it and nearly killed himself during his attempts to withdraw. In my opinion doctors prescribe psychiatric drugs very light-heartedly and haven’t got a clue how they work and the damage they cause.
    I read your book and found it very interesting. It could easily happen today in the UK where I live

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    • Alix, I’m sorry that psychiatric medication did so much harm to your family. The damage these drugs can cause is horrific, and yet doctors still prescribe them so freely. I’m glad you found my book interesting. Although my psychiatric treatment took place a long time ago, I know from my work with a mental health charity that people are still being harmed in similar ways by psychiatry today.

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  4. I think this “anti-pill-shaming” campaign is designed to silence not only criticism, but information about non-pill treatments. Pharmaceutical company funding goes into public education campaigns firmly declaring that depression is a medical disorder, that it must be treated with medication, that this is an indisputable scientific fact, and that to even suggest this isn’t the case for everyone diagnosed with depression is ignorant and dangerous. One example of this is NAMI’s Depression Is Real campaign. Unless you believe depression is a brain chemical imbalance and this imbalance must be treated by a pill for everyone in all scenarios barring disaster, you don’t believe depression is real. There was a lovely feature on by Gayathri Ramprasad, who writes about how years of pills, psychotherapy, hospitalization, and ECT made her worse, but she found healing through transcendental meditation, yoga, and CBT. The first and most well liked comment began “I hate how some people think that mental illness like depression isn’t “real”.” Do people such as this commenter really think that we somehow believe depression isn’t real, that anyone suffering from it or other mental illnesses are a bunch of lazy fakers? Or are they just using scare tactics and campaign strategies to shut us up and invalidate our experiences? I also think a lot of these people are people for whom the pills worked, and they just can’t accept that the treatment that they feel saved their life simply doesn’t work for everyone. Perhaps they’re afraid their pills will be debunked, their treatments will be taken away, and everyone will expect them to meditate and eat bean sprouts until they get better, I don’t know. I think this is an important topic and conversation to have. How do we make peace with the anti-pill-shamers without allowing them to control what we talk about and how we talk about it? Thank you for this.

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    • Depression, despair, deep suffering and distress – whatever we call it, it’s very real. In the past few days especially, I’ve come across people who have tried to silence me by insinuating that I don’t understand it is ‘real’, have never truly experienced it and should therefore STFU. This is rubbish. We have to keep speaking our truths loudly and clearly, though this can be hard and frustrating when people get defensive and twist what we’re saying.

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  5. I ran into similar accusations when I went into a few online bipolar support groups, just after Nancy Andreasson’s report was released, to warn people of the long run effects of the antipsychotics. And I made it clear I wasn’t telling anyone to go off meds without medical assistance, but knew the psychiatric profession wasn’t being upfront with their informed consent approaches. And they were misdiagnosing (according to the DSM-IV-TR) a lot of people “bipolar,” due to adverse effects of antidepressants and other drugs.

    I realized some people really do feel the meds help them, which is wonderful. But the psychiatric drugs do not work for everyone. Especially, in my opinion, those who were misdiagnosed as “bipolar” due to ADRs or withdrawal symptoms of antidepressants, ADHD, or other drugs. The bottom line is forced treatment really needs to be abolished. And psychiatrists really need to start actually listening to what their patients are saying.

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    • How wonderful it would be if forced treatment was abolished and if psychiatrists started actually listening to what their patients say. Some psychiatrists here in the UK are challenging the old established coercive methods and are listening to their patients, but they’re still a minority. I suppose all we can do as patients or survivors is keep chipping away at the wall until, hopefully, it falls.

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  6. Awe, NAMI and the psychiatrists are all upset because their crimes against humanity are now all over the internet ! SHAME ON YOU psychopaths for chemical lobotomizing so many little children! And how embarrassing for you to have your new DSM “Bible” of stigmatizations declared scientifically “lacking in validity” by the head of NIMH himself.

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      • Alot of the struggle is against the army of incompetents with prescription pads, for example this physicians assistant I saw at a place I was at that put almost everyone on Zoloft ! A total flaky incompetent who writes 100s of SSRI prescriptions a year.

        The joke at the place was how she would go on ‘web md’ to answer peoples questions typing on a PC. The doctor of course signed off on everything she did.

        I see it all the time, young people coming into recovery for help after going overboard with the drinking/ party drugs getting all loaded up on these pills for no reason at all.

        Then when the get sick of life as medicated zombies they drink and take drugs to feel again.

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        • All these young people on the med line for Zoloft, Lexapro and ‘mood-stabilizers’ its a sick joke but they all believe the “broken brain” LIE and take the damb things , breaks my heart cause I was one of them for too long.

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  7. Nice essay, if anything I would say it’s actually too accommodating and not forceful enough. For example, “sometimes normal difficult emotions are (mis)diagnosed as an illness requiring medication…” Sometimes? How about, very frequently or almost all the time? “sometimes the (mis)diagnosing of human experience for a ‘depressive illness’”.. Sometimes, again? In my experience, the medicalization and invalidation are relentless. One has to fight tooth and nail, or happen upon just the right people who really get it, who seem to be few and far between, in order for it to be understood that there is a *valid reason* for one’s emotions, when it comes to depression, when it comes to shyness or anxiety, when it comes to anger, feeling mistreated or abandoned, etc. I find our society to be almost relentlessly ignorant and invalidating. I like this piece but I would have used stronger language – not to alienate, but to say “Enough.” We have had to take more than too much bullshit – as you so aptly mention in your last line – for too long now. The right information and practices exist out there, so no more excuses. Enough of the medieval ignorance, power abuses, and bullshit. ENOUGH.

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    • Show me a person who has a “perfect life” and depression then I’ll believe the medical model. Everyone goes through some shit in their lives, bad or worse and some people take it better than others. More shit > more chance of depression + more “sad” personality > more depression. Sounds pretty simple to me. Add a few cases for people with some underlying physical illness and most if not all of the depression explained. It does not mean the experience isn’t real or painful. It’s just not a brain disorder.

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    • Just to add a thought: someone has said that we live in a psychopathic society and this may well be true. Caring for anyone but yourself and having and displaying strong emotions has been ridiculed or straight pathologised for decades now. The fight against psychiatric abuse is part of a bigger picture in a fight for a better society overall…

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  8. Accusing someone of “pill shaming” is a classic “ad hominem” attack, focusing on the purported characteristics of the person making the comment rather than the substance of the argument s/he makes. This is chronically employed by the industry and their psycho-phants in their so-called “anti-stigma campaigns,” whose real focus is to undermine any opposition to the psychiatric agenda by making anyone who brings up contrary facts appear to be thoughtless and insensitive and in favor of stigmatizing the so-called “mentally ill.”

    I believe such attacks need to be labeled head on as what they are. It is almost a requirement to say, “I know for some people these drugs seem to be effective” as a means of taking the wind out of the sails of those who are committed to their drug approach, but if this isn’t effective, I think the answer is to attack the approach and the person using it. THEY are in fact shaming YOU for disagreeing with them.

    If you consider that Irving Kirsh’s work correctly summarizes the literature (and I do), then the bulk of those who are “helped by medication” are experiencing the placebo effect, and their improvement depends on continuing to believe that the antidepressants are working for them. Such people will always have to vociferously and irrationally defend their views, much as those who believe in a very rigid set of religious dogma can’t allow that other religious dogma might have validity, or indeed that their dogma are dogma at all. They view such dogma as the absolute and unalterable truth, and will not tolerate anyone who speaks otherwise.

    So I think the proper approach is not to try and understand or moderate one’s statements to accommodate those who would accuse you of being a “pill shamer.” I think the appropriate approach is to name and attack the tactics for what they are, and to make sure that anyone else reading your response sees what is going on. It is pointless to try and convince such people to hear you. All you can really do is call them out publicly and make sure you do NOT apologize for your views. Eventually, you can turn the tables on them and make it clear to any reader that it is in fact the accuser who is really the one using shaming tactics and avoiding the facts you are presenting.

    —- Steve

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    • “If you consider that Irving Kirsh’s work correctly summarizes the literature (and I do), then the bulk of those who are “helped by medication” are experiencing the placebo effect, and their improvement depends on continuing to believe that the antidepressants are working for them. ” That’s why I think homeopathy should be a better choice for a psychiatrist to prescribe – it has pretty much zero side effects. Antidepressants and other psych drugs are much too harmful for a sugar pill.

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      • Yup. But that only works if we don’t rise to the bait and try to argue on their turf. The key is to change the context of the conversation and make it about their tactics, rather than about whether or not we care about those who choose to take pills to manage their emotions.

        Thanks for your reply!

        — Steve

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  9. This evidently is an abusive propaganda tactic they have created and employ.

    To have someone (presenting themselves as being a concerned person, an expert authority, or a psychiatric medicine consumer) write that there’s something wrong with you and what you are writing. In this case that you are “shaming” people for seeking the drug-medicine help that they clearly need.

    Shaming people “with” psychotic or mood disorders, “illnesses” that are “serious,” or as written at one point in this article, “deep.”

    Presented with facts: they stick to their propaganda guns. Drugs are “medication,” they just are. Psychiatric diagnosis is valid. It just is.

    People “with” a Psychiatric “disorder” need “medication” and especially so if it is deep or serious case.

    Another propaganda template they have created for their operatives to employ is — someone stating they are a concerned person, or a mentally ill consumer, and writing that they have quote, serious mental illness.

    Serious mental illness for which patented prescription drug “medication” is needful.

    Such posts were seen in Alternatives Conference facebook pages in the months prior to the December 2013 Austin Conference. A person wrote “I have a serious mental illness” exactly matching the PR wordage. Did not right which specific label! Just “a serious mental illness.”

    Serious is a propaganda term used by the DJ Jaffe and E. Fuller Torrey operatives.

    Serious Mental Illness, as they say in the new propaganda-wordage argot, refers, of course, to the most lucrative syndrome (symptom cluster) labels in the Psychiatric Diagnostic Manual.

    As Vera Sharav, Lisa Cosgrove and others have revealed the mood disorder and psychosis panels involved in creating the new updated Diagnostic Manual are composed of panel members all of whom have monetary conflicts on interest with pharmaceutical companies.

    See Vera Sharav,
    “One hundred percent of the members of the panels on ‘Mood Disorders’ and ‘Schizophrenia and Other Psychotic Disorders’ had financial ties to drug companies. The leading categories of financial interest held by panel members were research funding (42%), consultancies (22%) and speakers bureau (16%).”

    This gambit of playing the person writing that the person writing is shaming people who take prescription drugs, this ploy goes with the propaganda gambit of theirs of saying that people “have serious mental illness” – or writing “I am a person…” “with”

    I have the impression that both of these inventions (at least being played often) are recent.

    In regards to people getting to try the no patent drug option: Orthomolecular related doctors and biochemists have important articles that need to be included in this discussion if truth and helping people are our goals.

    William Walsh of Walsh Research (and no longer with Pfieffer Treatment which was first taken over and has since recently folded) stated in Salem at the hospital in a speech presentation about 7 years ago on his involvement with the treatment and research community and Carl Pfieffer, Ph.D., M.D. and elsewhere that when people on major tranquillizer drugs for a long period (IE, dopamine 2 receptor blockers such as seroquel, haldol, risperal, prolixin) had their dosage progressively reduced while getting biochemical therapy then optimal dosage might best be a very small dose (as compared to zero).

    At the Safe Harbor site Raymond J. Pataracchia, B.Sc., N.D. writes in Optimal Dosing that the smallest effective dosage is a fundamental principal in Medicine and applies to both nutrient and drug chemotherapy.

    Peter Lehmann writes in Treatment Induced Suicide of the value of reaching half a dose. The importance of honest biochemical testing and therapies in helping people to get off from patented drugs and to deal with actual underlying systemic problems are things we must bring to our honest discussion of medical information.

    Daniel Burdick, Springfield/Eugene Oregon USA

    Optimal Dosing by Raymond Pataracchia, N.D.

    William Walsh

    Treatment-induced Suicide: Suicidality as a Potential Effect of Psychiatric Drugs
    “n 47 cases the depressive mood lifted in 41 cases, in only two cases there was no change, and in four cases the effect was dubious. It was very surprising to see that in the predominant number of cases the reduction of the doses (normally to half of the former dose) alone lead to an improvement of the depressive symptoms. Often it was only a partial improvement, but even this brought clear relief to the patient.”

    Oxidative stress and role of antioxidant and omega-3 essential fatty acid supplementation in schizophrenia.

    “I have serious mental illness” SAMSHA should not fund ALternatives Conference.

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  10. Jean, I appreciate your point of you and your recognition of the importance of speaking
    To this topic in a balanced way that honors different peoples personal and lived truths.
    And that’s really the greatest truth there is when it comes to human beings- the truth of what we actually personally experience as individuals, and what a range there is!
    I agree there is a devastating amount of overmedicating that occurs and I believe that medication
    Are often be prescribed before people have a chance to explore alternative forms of healing care and support.
    At the same time I find myself feeling concerned by activists who appear to primarily express black and white thinking and not enough honoring of the gray when it comes to medication. I think it is wonderful that there are emerging resources and conversations for people wanting to come off of medication and activists and leaders speaking about the freedom regarding coming off medication. At the same time, I want to say “Wait! Yikes! Slow down please! The way it worked for you is not necessarily how it goes for us all! Please speak for yourself! ”
    Coming off medication is a very individual process and deserves a lot of education before anyone attempts it. I came off of medication a year ago at a rapid pace (I didn’t do my research before hand) and frankly it’s amazing that I am still here alive at this moment. The withdrawal syndrome and traumatic shock that I experienced throughout my body was incredibly severe and terrifying and disabling and to some extent still is.
    It’s a topic that deserves a wide girth of conversation with a range of personal experiences shared.
    I am not anti-psychiatry; I am pro-wellness and healing, and interested in what that means and looks like for each individual. I believe a great psychiatrist and counselor can be part of a team that supports someone, especially if it feels supportive to that particular someone. Let’s move towards the mindful use of medication. Perhaps this mindfulness step and middle ground will help page the way for a more balanced exchange around the use and letting go of medication in a safe and empowering way.

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    • Sarastar4, thank you for your comments. I agree that the way it worked for me is not the same for everyone. In sharing our individual experiences we can only speak for ourselves, but in pooling our experiences we can see the similarities and differences, and perhaps learn something from each other. A point I keep making is that one size does not fit all.

      I couldn’t agree more that before anyone attempts to come off medication, they need to be well informed. I did the same as you the first time that I tried to come off. I was naive about medication and I didn’t know that coming off all at once is dangerous. I knew nothing about the possibility of a withdrawal syndrome and I found out the hard way. If I had listened to these kind of debates first, and done my research (though this was back in the seventies when apparently much less was known about it), I could have saved myself a lot of difficulty. Monica Cassani has written what I think is a very good article about this. I don’t know if this link to it works. Maybe it will if you copy and paste it into your browser.

      Activists are often accused of not presenting a balanced view in relation to medication. But it could equally be argued that many people who are pro-medication don’t present a balanced view. So what is ‘balanced’? The discussion then gets polarised into those ‘for’ or ‘against’, whereas the whole issue is really more complex than that.

      As I said, I’ve found that debate about important issues surround medication is often shut down by cries of ‘Pill shaming!’ and the like, which saddens me as it gets us all nowhere. I can only reiterate that: Criticising the use of medication does not automatically amount to criticising people who take it. Debate is needed, with everyone’s views listened to and their right to their views respected.

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      • Well, the accusation that you’re stigmatising people who are on meds is a typical strawman argument. Instead of addressing the real issues with meds you shift the topic to something (strawman) else and attack the person who is making the argument of something they never said. This is a widely used tactics unfortunately…

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