Food for Thought
by Carolotta Mae Anweiler
In September of 2015, a social media campaign was developed to bring awareness to the wide population of those who fight mental health issues and take psychotropic medication. Using the hashtag #MedicatedAndMighty, the goal of this campaign is to bring attention to and to combat stigmas surrounding mental health issues and the use of prescribed psychotropic drugs. The subject of stigma surrounding psychotropic medication is vastly unstudied in the realm of communication, and some of those communication researchers who have studied this topic have skeptical if not prejudiced opinions of those who take medication. Rubin (2006) states, “This ‘‘Psychotropia’’ has become the new asylum, and we its inmates” (p. 260). And while food is often described as medication, we have never considered the opposite, describing medication as food. Through previous research, we know that health ads and campaigns seem to be helpful only sometimes (Byrne & Hart, 2009). However, when information regarding mental illness is examined interactively, there is reported attitude change (Kim & Stout, 2010). And as stigma is discursively created, it may then be able to be discursively reduced. A social media campaign completes both of these criteria as it is entirely interactive as it is developed and maintained by those who participate and interact with others in discourse about the campaign on social media. Therefore, the #MedicatedAndMighty campaign is an ideal space in which to study perceptions of stigma, and the effectiveness of a campaign. The purpose of this study is to then not only examine this campaign, but also to interview participants to discover their perceptions of whether describing medication as food could further the diminishing of stigma. Discussing medication as food would accomplish two things. First, it would simply bring medication into discussion. Specifically, using a social media campaign similar to #MedicatedAndMighty would create an ideal space for discourse that reduces stigma.Secondly, it would relate psychotropic medication, which is often unknown and frightening to people, to food, which is common discourse and experienced by all. This point reflects the earlier statement of discussing medication in an knowledgeable light. Not only would the public be able to see and interact with informed discourse, but also medication could be paralleled to food, which is a shared experience. The discussion and partaking of food is a shared or communal experience. In this way, the discussion of medication as food parallels social media in that is a joint experience that would create a safe conversation that is possibly less daunting than discussing stigmatized medication. Through this exploratory study of this campaign and individuals’ reactions, the #MedicatedAndMighty campaign seems to be a success in regard to effectiveness. This campaign is filled with stories that are counter-narratives to the dominant narrative that psychotropic medication is scary and for those who are weak. Individuals are volunteering their own stories, creating discourse, and showing that taking this medication makes them ‘mighty’, not weak. Many of the posts contain photos of food and texts like, “This is what my body needs.” Participants seem to be unknowingly relating their discourse about psychotropic medication to food. The real question this study seeks to generate is, if food can be medication, and medication, like food, can make you strong and healthy, what would happen to stigma if we began describing medication as food?