No one can replace medication

Posters addressing mental health issues are well-intentioned but dangerous

Over the past couple of weeks, there have been a slew of posters around campus regarding mental health and specifically antidepressants. These posters feature a design of one hand reaching for a bottle of (smiley-face) pills while another hand is seemingly holding the first one back with the message “Let me be your antidepressant” floating in the bottom right-hand corner.

These posters send a dangerous message about mental health. Although they were perhaps made with good intentions, they cannot be excused from the hazardous misconceptions which they are actively reinforcing. Conversations surrounding mental health are already difficult to have openly without fear of judgement or shame. Posters such as these only increase the difficulty of these conversations by potentially emphasizing negative feelings that an individual suffering from mental health issues might internalize.

The slogan on the poster – “Let me be your antidepressant” – is a dangerous suggestion to simply replace medication with a friend, family member or significant other. Human beings cannot replace medication. For some individuals suffering from mental health issues medication is absolutely necessary, and for others it is not. A well-rounded support system is also an important part of coping with mental health, and this support system can take on a variety of meanings for each individual. However, this support system should not comprise one individual. An individual’s mental health is not something that one person alone can solve or feel responsible for. This approach is much more harmful than helpful.

The poster’s imagery is eerily reminiscent of a controlling partner or relationship. Of course, relying on loved ones as a source of support and comfort is OK and at times helpful, but the grabbing hand suggests control. To me, this is a big red flag. If an individual chooses or needs to take medication for their mental health, this is a decision made between that individual and a mental health professional, not a significant other, friend or family member.

The stigma surrounding mental health in our society is astoundingly widespread. The discourse is slowly changing and becoming more receptive to narratives which address mental health issues. But posters such as these, although they are made with good intentions, only contribute to the stigmatization and silencing of individuals with mental health issues. We must actively combat this stigma by listening to individuals who share their mental health stories and work toward cultivating comforting, supportive communities.

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