I love the show musical Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and how it’s thoughtfully and cleverly addressed mental health issues. However, the song “Anti-Depressants Are So Not a Big Deal” from last week’s episode left me feeling a little uneasy.
Before I get into my misgivings about this song, let me first give it the praise it’s due: It’s an excellent parody of La La Land, it’s catchy, it’s funny, it has great tap dancing, and most importantly, it helps people who need to take antidepressants not feel bad about it or think that they’re the only ones. Creator and star Rachel Bloom wrote in a tweet that the song is about “destigmatizing” anti-depressant usage and fighting against the idea that they’re “shameful or a cop out.” This is a very good thing — the last thing people who are trying to deal with their mental health need is discouragement from using the tools that will help them do that.
However, as many commenters on You Tube and other places have pointed out, the song also lacks nuance about antidepressant usage; as Allie Pape says in her Vulture review, if they had been able to use the brand names in the song, “it’d just be an ad.” While it’s true that the song addresses some of the common side effects and the need to sometimes change your dosage or medication and that, as Bloom says, “There could be a million other songs about the complexities of meds,” it also waves away any discomfort with the idea that there’s something amiss about the fact that “everyone” is on medication. It tries to address its critics with the line, “Some cry that in the past, we didn’t medicate everyone/Cool, witch trials and and the Crusades sound like so much fun.” And while it’s true that we can’t assume that the past is inherently better than the present, I think it’s also true that this attitude lets our current society off the hook from addressing the larger role it plays in both causing and healing poor mental health. (I’ll save discussing the ways that our society causes poor mental health that I’ve learned about from Johann Hari’s book Lost Connections for another post and, for now, talk about the role it plays in treating it.)
One systemic issue mentioned by the commenters to the song on Youtube is that insurance coverage for medication is typically much better than it is for therapy, even though it’s often more effective to combine therapy and medication than to use medication alone. My own experience confirms this— one month of insurance-covered therapy costs me about $350, while my medications usually cost between about $20-$50. And while medication has helped get me out of the hole in my darkest moments, therapy and working with my nutritionist (which was even more expensive than therapy!) have had the most overall, long-term benefits for my mental health, with way fewer negative side effects. Of course, I wouldn’t have been able to pursue therapy and nutrition help without the boost of medication, but my fear is that for people who are less privileged than I am, medication is by default the stopping point, not the starting point, of their treatment, and that songs like this can encourage the attitude that that’s fine.
To be fair, I’m sure that this isn’t the message that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend intends to send, especially since therapy has a strong presence in the show. But while medication is never a cop-out for the people who need it, it can be a cop-out for our healthcare system, and I get nervous when anything gives fodder to that idea. The last thing I want is for people to go from being shamed for using medication (“just get out more/pray more/eat better”) to being shamed for being uneasy about using it or wanting more treatment options (“just take the pill”). Both extremes come from a place of privilege and dismissal, not of empathy and trust that a person knows what she needs to get better. I hope that anyone who shares this song with someone else does it with the intention of encouraging them, not pressuring them.