Media, Moms & Medication #MentalHealth

Last Thursday I received a phone call from a producer at Anderson Live daytime TV show. “Hi Cristi. Would you be interested in being a guest on our show next Tuesday about the Parenting.com story Xanax Make Me a Better Mom.” The story had gone viral and was making news.

After panicking for a bit, I called my husband and then messaged a group of mental health and PPD bloggers I’m a part of. You see, advocating for mental health is something I’m very passionate about but I was SCARED. My husband immediately said “You’re going to do it!” and my heart was telling me I wanted to. But I was panicked for several reasons. Would the media sensationalize this important topic? Would it turn into a fight between moms who are against meds and those who take them? Would I be able to handle the stress of actually being on National television when I deal with an anxiety disorder day to day in my own everyday life?

Turns out it didn’t really matter. After I said I was interested, they ended up choosing guests more geographically central to New York City (I’m in Seattle so it would have been a big deal with travel.) I was disappointed, but it is what it is. And I’m grateful that someone found me because of this blog. That’s a very good thing.

medsBut then the sensational promotion of the segment began…

On Sunday, @AndersonLive tweeted:

Taking mood stabilizers to be a better parent?
What do you think of this new trend? Tweet back: ALParenting

Uh, WHAT?!?

Mood stabilizers, a TREND? I don’t think so.

Their web site was pre-promoting the segment:

“MOM CONTROVERSY: PILLS MAKE ME A BETTER MOM — Anderson hears from moms on both sides of a controversial debate making headlines, as mothers who say taking anti-anxiety drugs makes them better parents square-off against mothers who say this behavior goes too far.”

This kind of sensationalized, stigmatizing promotion really bothered me. I know the media tries to “sell controversy” to capture attention and viewers, but mental health treatment is serious business. We’re talking about people with a real medical condition–myself included–who need good care. Who need good doctors. Who need to feel unashamed of reaching out for help.

Friends, I know that there are abuses in just about everything. There are those who have addictions, and that is so so sad. Not all doctors are created equal and some are prescribing unnecessary medication or not educating their patients about the risks.

But legitimate GOOD mental health treatment is not a trend, it is a necessity.

From the get go, I felt like this shouldn’t be a controversy. Medication is not one size fits all. It’s not for everyone. And if someone disagrees with taking pills, then don’t take them. We have to be our own mental health advocates.

But mental illness is real and saying that one form of legitimate treatment is a trend just perpetuates stigma and makes people feel bad about themselves for needing medication.

Over the years I’ve felt very bad about the need for medication. I’ve felt the stigma FOR SURE.

But I now know better. I take medication because it works for my illness, to help me be the best ME I can be, along with many other things like diet, exercise, therapy, and most importantly learned coping mechanisms that help me get through the rougher spots. Saying that parents just take meds as the easy way out is over simplified and completely untrue.

Do you know just how difficult it can be to find the right mix of medication? How many side effects there are? How long it takes to feel well. And once you do, how vigilant one with mental illness needs to be to take care of themselves and be healthy?

Women who are “popping pills just to be a better mom” have much deeper issues at work, whether that’s mental illness, addiction or just terribly low self esteem, these women need therapy and other medical treatment, not stigma. Not a “battle of the moms” and not more judgement.

After watching the actual segment on Anderson Live today, I can say this with certainty. A few minutes is absolutely NOT enough time to cover this complex and important topic. And it was sensationalized. I think Anderson Cooper and his team tried to provide some good information offering an expert with coping mechanisms and talk about true mental illness toward the end, but it wasn’t enough in my opinion. The moms who shared their stories were brave and as candid as they could be in the very limited time they were given. But there is so much more to share.

Christina Gleason @WELLinTHIShouse, one of the Anderon Live show’s guests wrote this post that I’d like to share: You Will Not Shame Me — The Stigma of Mental Illness and Prescription Drugs

Not coincidentally Katie Couric also aired a segment about moms and medication yesterday. She interviewed one of the moms actually featured in the Xanax Makes a Better Mom Parenting.com story, JD Bailey @JDhonestMom.

Before I get to her interview, I have to note that I HATE the title of the Parenting.com story. Its obviously meant to elicit a strong reaction. And it doesn’t get to the real issue.

I’ve seen a LOT of comments on this story about benzodiazapines (Xanax, Ativan, Valium) and how addictive and improperly used and prescribed they are. But these specific types of drugs are VERY different from other mental health medication. They are not meant to be used long-term like SSRI’s (Paxil, Zoloft, Prozac, etc.) or mood stablizers (Seroquel, Lithium, etc.). Benzos are very addictive and are prescribed (by good doctors) in very small doses and only to be used in case of emergency like a panic attack. Unfortunately I think these drugs are often used incorrectly and much longer term than they should. That is a show in itself.

But in general real mental health treatment by medication is longer term (or can be shorter term for those suffering postpartum depression).

And yes, these medications do make me a better mom because they make my mental health similar to someone who does not have depression, anxiety or manic episodes. I’m able to handle stress like a normal person with the help of medication. I’m not addicted. I’m not using it as a crutch. It is a medical necessity for me. And I’m NOT ashamed of that fact. Not anymore.

JD Bailey did a wonderful job eloquently presenting her point of view on Katie. And I think Katie Couric handled the topic in an intelligent and less sensational way than Anderson Cooper. So I wanted to share a part of that interview with JD here with you.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Do you think medication makes you a better mom/a better person?

UPDATE: Good Morning America is scheduled to air a Moms & Medication segment on Monday. I know I’ll be watching!

Please note: I am not a doctor or medical professional. The above are my personal opinions and do not constitute medical advice of any kind. If you are struggling please contact your doctor immediately.

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About Cristi Comes

Mom. Wife. Writer. Advocate for mental health, suicide prevention, self care, self image and style. Technology and social media lover. Board of Directors, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Washington State Chapter. Warrior Mom Editorial Leadership Team Postpartum Progress.

Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing. I really hate the way this fake controversy has been framed, starting with the Parenting.com story. There are so many people suffering from mental illness who WON’T seek treatment because of this very stigma, how people judge you and deem you as weak and deficient without knowing anything else about you but the fact that you take medication. I really wished I’d had more time to talk on the show, and I wish that Jacqueline – who I shared a dressing room with – hadn’t been made out to look like some sort of addict.
    Christina Gleason @ WELL, in THIS House recently posted..You Will Not Shame Me – The Stigma of Mental Illness and Prescription DrugsMy Profile

    • I wish you had more time too Christina but I truly think the things you said were great. I loved how you were able to respond about coping mechanisms when the other guest suggested you’d “just give your kids pills”. And yes, showing Jacqueline popping pills over and over on screen was just sensationalistic and unnecessary. It was a tough situation but I’m still glad mental health got some national attention.

      • Cristi, you know how this all impacts me and what I think about it all. Thank you for this incredible post. I have been thinking of my own but am just not ready to write out my thoughts yet.

        Christina, I don’t know you but you rocked. I wanted to hug you and shout HOORAH! through the TV screen. :>

        And yes, making Jacqueline look a certain way was annoying. But she did well, too.

        Thanks for the efforts in sharing the importance of medication as moms, but more importantly, as people who need meds to fully function as we are – people. Moms. Wives. Friends. Sisters. We need the meds to be ourselves. With normalcy. Thank you!
        Andrea recently posted..That girl.My Profile

      • Ivy
        Twitter: ivyshihleung
        says:

        I finally watched the DVR’d Anderson Live show and one of the first things I felt was annoyance at how many times they repeatedly showed Jacqueline popping pills. C’mon now, once is enough!

  2. Hi Cristi – Nice intelligent blog post. I know, hype is annoying. I want to share that I’ve been living with this hype vs intelligent discourse conundrum for a long time. As a mental health provider, I know that mental health is not “sexy” or “cool” to anyone. Lots of people won’t budget for a copay to a mental health provider , it feels like too much money. Good mental health as something desirable is hidden in our society.
    And then there are people who advertise as coaches and they can promise/advertise alot more sexy stuff than us plain old mental health providers.
    So, I get the hype, it’s not pretty but people have very short attention spans. I don’t like the mommy wars stuff. It’s infantile and stupid.
    And I’m glad good mental health is getting attention now, even in this convoluted way.
    And I’m glad there are a large group of intelligent women out there who are active advocates for mental health!
    SOOO GLAD for you and all your advocacy work! Even if it was for a short time, intelligent discourse about good mental health has been out there as a topic. !
    thanks, kathy
    Kathy Morelli,LPC recently posted..Stigma Around Mental Illness Causes People to Not Get the Treatment They NeedMy Profile

    • You’re right Kathy, I think the media is always trying to make issues more “sexy” and mommy wars controversy gets attention. I’m also glad mental health was a topic of discussion. I wish they’d just give it more time for a REAL discussion.

  3. Charity
    Twitter: Signingcharity
    says:

    I’m sorry they didn’t have you come.

    I picked up both my medication scripts today. My heart is always a little heavy when I have to do that. I wish I didn’t need these mood stabilizers to survive, but I do. They make parenting easier as I am alive and functioning in order to parent. They make it harder to parent as some of the medications have some hard side effects.

    Parenting is hard regardless. It is nigh unto impossible without the right tools, and my mental health is one of those tools I need.

    • We do ALL need the right tools for each of us to parent effectively and for those of us with mental illness, sometimes medication is a part of that story. An important one. Hugs sweetie. Its never easy to need medication for ANY illness.

  4. Cristi, I wish I could have heard your voice on the show. I watched both shows yesterday. Some valid points were made, but it did not go into a lot of detail. Maternal mental health deserves an entire week long series of episodes to cover all of its intricacies.

    For me, I needed the antidepressant medication to take the edge off my severe depression and anxiety. I needed the medication to help me learn coping mechanisms and tools in therapy. It was a combination of medication, exercise, therapy, and online support that helped me recover. I am still on both my anti depressant and my Ativan. I take Ativan as needed. Thankfully the panic attacks that used to consume my days have subsided. I can go weeks at a time without needing my Ativan.
    Jenny recently posted..All You Need Is LoveMy Profile

  5. We just had a Twitter conversation about this, but I’d like to add that Klonopin, a benzodiazepine, is part of my long-term treatment. All I’m adding is that even something like that is *so* individual. The drug was originally a temporary part of my meds regimen. It was supposed to be a “bridge” to help with panic attacks until the Zoloft kicked in. Turns out, I don’t function without it. I don’t like the word “addicted” although I am certainly chemically (and psychologically) dependent on Klonopin. Part of the definition of addiction is using a drug improperly, particularly without proper supervision. I have never and will never take more Klonopin than I need and have always followed the instructions my doctor provides. The Zoloft worked, then it didn’t, now I’m on Effexor, but the Klonopin stays. I’ve been on zero, 1mg, now 4mg, but always what my doctor and I agree helps me function. The entire country may know this after tomorrow’s episode of Good Morning America. Let’s hope that they do a better job with my footage than they did with other moms!
    Anne-Marie recently posted..We Are On Good Morning America Tomorrow!My Profile

    • It is certainly extremely individual, and I’m glad you’re managed well by your doctor. Do you take it every day?

      • I take 1 mg, 4 times a day. Anxiety & panic are my primary struggles, and always have been. If they spiral, then the depression kicks in. The real key here though is that I was in therapy for 9 months before taking meds, and the emphasis was: you are going to see a psychiatrist who will see if this is a good tool for us to put in your toolbox. I remember that phrase. Then HE (the doctor) said that given MY symptoms, he would be hesitant to issue refills if I were not in therapy at least once a week.

        But I tried switching to Ativan before getting pregnant, because it’s better researched during pregnancy, and I couldn’t function. I had panic attacks, all the physical symptoms came back. I didn’t tell anyone, because I didn’t want to “hurt my baby” (I wasn’t pregnant yet!) by going back to Klonopin, until I had been fired for not showing up to work. I was panicking about opening the front door. I wish I knew why this drug is the only thing that helps me manage that, but I’m just glad something works.
        Anne-Marie recently posted..We Are On Good Morning America Tomorrow!My Profile

        • I’m glad it works for you too! And it’s wonderful that you have doctors that have been so on top of things and proactive. It’s not easy to find such good support. I’m really looking forward to seeing the GMA segment and hope its loaded with great information. Fingers crossed!!

  6. Well-said. I’m glad you pointed out the difference between the sensation tales of mothers will pill problems and those of us who use medicine as part of our health plan with the guidance of professionals. You are so right. There is no controversy. People who need medicine and can handle the side effects will take it. It doesn’t matter if it’s for anxiety or ulcers.

  7. Leslie
    Twitter: TheBeardedIris
    says:

    Excellent job comparing the two segments and calling them on the sensationalism they use to get viewers! I was watching my friend JD on Katie and missed the Anderson Live show that day, but I was really pissed at how the producers edited the promos to make it look like JD was “the controversial Xanax mom!” and then back from commercial Katie had to say that JD wasn’t actually that mom, but a mom from that article. The way they saved her segment for last, like she was going to be a hot bed of shocking controversy, was disgusting. There should be NO shame about this – we are just people who are doing what it takes to manage our health…just like people on statins or insulin shots. Why is this even an issue?
    Leslie recently posted..Diary of a Sexually Maturing Leopard GeckoMy Profile

  8. Ivy
    Twitter: ivyshihleung
    says:

    Cristi,
    I’m so disappointed you didn’t make it to the show. But as I mentioned to you before, it’s probably just as well you didn’t trek all the way out here just for a couple of minutes’ speaking opp’y. I like Anderson Cooper, but after observing the format live and then a different segment on a diff day on video, I’m afraid everything that’s on the show–even the more controversial topics like this Moms & Meds segment–are not given adequate attention. They go into everything at such a superficial level that the general public walks away from it not learning anything useful. It’s almost like this episode only served to stir the embers of controversy and the stigma of mothers who pop meds.

    Perhaps if I hadn’t survived PPD and taken a combination of meds I never dreamed I would ever need to take (Ambien, Xanax and Paxil), I may have an entirely different attitude today about mothers who need to take meds due to a postpartum mood disorder and/or ongoing mood disorders like depression and panic attacks. If I hadn’t taken those meds, I’m not sure I would even be here today. My brain chemistry was so messed up from childbirth that I went from fine one day to not sleeping at all the next.

    Everyone is unique. Everyone’s genetic and environmental backgrounds make them unique. A combination of certain biological, psychological and social factors can cause a postpartum mood disorder to arise after childbirth. For some, the depression was already there before childbirth. For others, the depression first arises after childbirth and never completely goes away. For some (like me), all it took was a combination of meds to right my brain chemistry before I was feeling my normal self again. For others, all that’s needed is therapy. For others, a combination of meds and therapy is needed.

    I could go on and on and on (maybe I should’ve taken you up on your offer to guest post :) ), but I will end with this statement that to banish stigma, airing a segment 15 min long on a serious topic like this is not going to accomplish anything, period. Especially not when the show is set up to be purely entertaining, centered on celebrities and gossip. We need a lengthier segment on something like CNN or 48 Hours. Even Katie Couric’s show seems a more suitable place to host adequate and balanced coverage (I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to watch that segment).
    Ivy recently posted..A Must Read: Emily Bazelon’s “Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy”My Profile

  9. Jennie Fili says:

    I have suffered with ppd for about 6 years. I would not accept it or seek help. No one knew for fear that they would see me as the unfit, crazy mom i felt i was or am. I suffered massive pregnancy depression that made me want to die more than anything! My baby is 15 months old and I am just now sticking to medication. My life has been hell! I could not accept being part of a “trend” or being so weak that I had to be on meds. There has been so much to feel guilty about despite my sincere efforts to be mentally stronger. The thing is, I don’t care anymore. Do you know what it’s like to have your child ask you why you are crying again? If medication will help me function so that I can be the mom I want to be then I will try it again. I am deeply religious and this, I hope, Iis the answer to my many prayers.

    • I agree it can be so hard to accept that help but really it’s about being the best mom we can be with the tools that work for each of us. I’m so glad you’re finding your way finally and I’m sorry you’ve gone through hell. Thank you for reading and commenting Jennie.

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