You wouldn’t think twice about telling people that you used ear drops to clear up an ear infection. But you might feel uneasy about sharing that you’re taking drugs for an STD or an on-going medical issue.
If you’re embarrassed by your medication, it may be because you see your illness as a personal failing. Some experts call this self-stigma. Others call it simply shame.
Reasons Behind the Feeling
You may have a notion of what “normal” health looks like. And you may believe that your medicine reflects your shortcomings. That may be more likely the case if you have:
- Depression, ADHD, or other mental illnesses
- Diseases related to aging, like arthritis or vision or memory loss
- Infectious diseases like HIV or herpes
- Conditions related to obesity, including diabetes, joint pain, or heart problems
- Trouble with your bladder or bowel, like incontinence or chronic diarrhea
- An addiction to alcohol, drugs, or cigarettes
You may be self-conscious at your doctor’s office or at the pharmacy counter for other reasons. You may fear that you’d be judged for some fact about yourself. Those may include:
- Your low income or lack of insurance
- Sexuality or gender identity
- Inability to read well
- Being a smoker
- Poor body or dental hygiene
Stigma and Your Health
Your discomfort about your condition and the need for treatment can lead to poor health choices. You may not follow your doctor’s advice or quit taking all your medicine before you finish. You may hide your diagnosis from family and friends.
Feeling ashamed can have real consequences for your body and mind. Consider:
Schizophrenia. In one study, more than half of the people with schizophrenia failed to stick with their treatments. A big driver was the level of shame the person felt about their mental disorder.
HIV. Research shows that people infected with the human immunodeficiency virus are less likely to take their drugs if they feel embarrassed about their infection or if they worry that someone will see them taking HIV medicine.
Type 2 diabetes. Some people may have deep prejudice about this condition, which is often related to extra weight. The stigma is that if you have diabetes, it’s your fault. Studies show that judgment from others can take a toll and may explain why some people don’t take their insulin or other drugs as their doctors recommend.
Overcome Your Embarrassment
These tips may help erase or at least ease any uncomfortable attitudes or thoughts you may have.
Get more answers. Ask your doctor about your prescription and how it can help you. Learn why you need it, what side effect you may expect, and what might happen if you don’t take it. Have the conversation with your pharmacist, too.
Learn your options. Are you having trouble keeping track of a lot of pills? Does it bother you to give yourself injections in public? Ask your doctor or pharmacist about alternatives, like extended-release pills that you don’t have to take as often, pumps, and auto-injectors, which have hidden needles and thus may be more comfortable to use.
Go with mail order. This option takes away any discomfort you might feel when you face your pharmacist. One study found that people who got their refills by mail were more likely to take their medications as prescribed than those who visited the local pharmacy.
Ask for privacy. Many drugstores have private rooms where you can talk to the pharmacist so others can’t overhear.
Let Friends and Family In
You don’t have to deal with embarrassment over your health problems alone. Close friends and family can give you encouraging words or offer practical help like picking up your medications. But first, they need to understand what you’re facing.
Prepare the listener. Start with something like, “I want to talk to you about something important. I feel embarrassed about it, though, so please don’t make a joke about it.”
Be specific about your condition and how it affects you. For example: “I have bipolar disorder, and sometimes it feels like my world is out of control.”
Suggest concrete ways to give support. Whether you need to find a new doctor, get a ride to an appointment, or just get more hugs, this is a good time to share what you want from your support team.