· By Leeanna Gantt
End Pill Shaming
Originally posted by Happy Pharm Life Jan. 13, 2021
Making Medication Adherence Your Superpower
I love superhero stories and I love helping people, so when I was asked to write something for Wonder Woman Wednesdays how could I say no?
But of course when it came time to write something I immediately thought, what on earth do I have to say?!? Certainly nothing that involves superpowers. In fact, I am still quite disappointed that after all the radiation that was blasted at my body, it doesn’t appear that I have any cool new powers to speak of. Maybe I just haven’t discovered them just yet.
All that being said, I do have something to share. I am not the only one saying this, but there aren’t enough people spreading this message and I want to do my part.
We need to change the way we talk about medication. We need to eliminate the stigma that is associated with taking any sort of medication, whether prescription or over the counter. Whether we are following Eastern, Allopathic (Western) medicine, Naturopathy, Homeopathy, Ayurvedic medicine... we need to support everyone's efforts to get and stay well. For many people, taking medication is the only way for them to stay well, stay pain free, or stay mentally or physically healthy.
When some people share the fact that they need to take medication with family, friends or coworkers, they often assume that they are “ill”, “unstable”, “lazy”, “taking the easy way out” or simply “less than” healthy.
I have found that for most people the opposite is true. Most people are being proactive, they are feeling unwell or have identified an area of dysfunction in their body or mind and have gone to a doctor or practitioner for help.
For example, I need to take one pill a day to keep my breast cancer from returning. I am not ill or frail, I am taking this to stay healthy. There are many other illnesses, especially cancers, that leave people with a need to take medication to either keep the cancer away or to replace something that the cancer has destroyed, like is often the case with thyroid cancer.
Yet I have heard from people who say that their doctor has recommended a medication to them but an untrained family member or friend suggested they try something else first. Thanks to the internet, we’re all medical experts now. It is important to educate yourself and be your own health advocate, but this well-intended advice can be harmful rather than helpful.
If your friend breaks their leg and the doctor looks at the X Rays and then tells them that they need a cast for 6-8 weeks, do you tell them not to listen to their doctor, to just walk it off, change their diet or do some yoga… no! If you have a headache do you take some aspirin to help it go away or do you just suffer needlessly?
Frequently, when someone says that a doctor told them to take something for high blood pressure or a mental health issue, people's first response is to tell them not to take it!
Now, before you get all upset, I am not saying that you can’t lower your blood pressure by making healthy lifestyle changes, or that you shouldn’t make other changes to help with certain mental health issues; you can and probably should. But these things should be done in conjunction with and under the supervision of your doctor. That care might include medication to keep you safe and healthy for a time while you begin to implement these changes. It shouldn’t be an either or situation.
People shouldn’t be made to feel like they have taken the “easy way out” by doing what their doctor recommends just because that recommendation is medication. This is especially true for mental health issues. Many times there isn’t a root cause that can be addressed by the individual, but rather a chemical imbalance that needs to be corrected pharmacologically.
So you might be wondering why I care about this at all. Honestly, I didn’t even know what nonadherance was until 2018 when I went through treatment for breast cancer for a whole year. That’s when I invented and patented tooktake dosage reminder labels.
In the process of researching to find out if I was the only person who couldn’t remember if I took or still needed to take my medication, I learned a ton! I spoke with doctors, nurses and pharmacists who all knew that this is a huge problem that has been around for as long as there has been medication. I was somewhat happily surprised to find out that not only am I not one of the only people who can’t remember my meds without assistance, studies show that out of the 4.38 BILLION prescriptions written annually, about 70%, aren’t taken as directed.
That’s a lot of people who aren’t following the directions.
I’ve learned that there are many reasons why people don’t take their medication as directed, but one of the main ones is that they just forget. When people don’t know if they already took their medication they tend to not take it so that they don’t take too much. But not taking your medications can be just as dangerous as taking it twice, especially with medication for mental health that can have immediate and severe withdrawal symptoms when not taken correctly.
Once I knew more about nonadherance I wondered why more people weren’t talking about it. 125,000 people a year, or more, are dying due to nonadherance and most of us don’t know the problem even exists. Given the scope and serenity, why isn’t more being done to solve this problem? I’m not a doctor or a researcher, but from talking with many people and reading about it, it seems to come down to a few key things.
First, most reminder systems are designed for the elderly. So that immediately makes them undesirable to many people, including the elderly! No one wants to think of themselves as old, or feeble, but that’s especially true if they are a child, teen or young adult.
Second, because people are so used to thinking that medication is for the elderly or very ill, they tend to not want to share with others, even close friends and family that they need to take or use something. They are often too embarrassed.
This needs to change. People should feel good about taking care of themselves. They should feel like the people around them support their efforts to be healthy, pain free, not itchy, able to breathe well, have clear skin, keep their cancer away, not be anxious or depressed, etc. If people were more open about what they are doing to get or stay healthy and more supportive of each other's efforts to get and stay well, I think a lot more people would share their stories and encourage others to seek out help when they need it.
This is especially important for younger people. We tend to learn from what we see our family and friends doing. If your family or friends judge others for taking something for their mental health or are ashamed or embarrassed about needing it themselves, you will probably follow that same pattern. If you need help, your first thought probably won’t be to talk to your friends or even mention that you need help. But if your friends and family are open about their problems and their efforts to maintain or recover their health you may feel more comfortable asking for help from a doctor, and you will also feel like you have a support system to help you stay on track in-between appointments.
We need to talk about this. We can help our friends and family get what they need and take it as directed.
We can make sure they tell their doctors and pharmacists if something isn’t working well or seems to be causing other side effects.
We can have open and honest conversations about medication and remove the stigma for those who need it.
We can stop labeling some forms of medical help as “good” and others as “bad”.
Especially when it comes to invisible illnesses and mental health issues.
We can stop judging others just because they don’t look “sick”. Medication isn't only for those who appear unhealthy.
Okay, I will climb off my soapbox. I could go on much longer, perhaps about how wonderful it is that more famous people are starting to talk openly about their own health, be it physical or mental, and the things they are doing to help themselves get and stay well. But I’ll save that rant for another day.
So, maybe my radiation didn’t give me superpowers. But my experience with breast cancer did give me a massive education in a problem I didn’t know existed and I am going to continue to use my platform and energy to raise awareness of medication nonadherance.
Hey, that reminds me. Did you take your medication today?