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Mental Illness and medication – there’s no doubt there is controversy around this topic! In a world where there seems to be a magic pill for everything, its clear to see that our society is overmedicated. It’s way too easy to get meds for something that’s ailing you. However, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t accept medication that we actually need.
FYI: I really hate the way mental illness sounds; It just doesn’t seem like an inclusive term! But, I don’t know what else to call it right now, so remember that mental illness could be anything from a generalized anxiety disorder to schizophrenia. This post focuses on anxiety and depression because that is what I struggle with and, therefore, know most about.
Why Do Some People Avoid Medication as Part of their Treatment?
I’ve struggled with my mental health since high school, but I wasn’t actually treated for depression and anxiety until I was in college. For the next 17 years I would go on and off a number of different meds for various reasons.
One of the big reasons I would decide to go off a medication is that I didn’t like feeling like my mental well-being relied solely on a pill. This, of course, isn’t the case, but there were many days where it felt like that.
I’ve heard from quite a few people who have been prescribed a medication for anxiety and/or depression that they have experienced a numbness. The lows aren’t as low anymore, which is great, but on the flip side the highs aren’t as high anymore either. They think the medicine dulls them.
Before I go any further, please remember that I’m smart ;), but not smart enough to hold a medical degree. Therefore, I don’t. If you have any questions around medication you’re currently taking, you should talk to your doctor.
Ok, back to it! I personally have never experienced the numbness that some people have described, and it piqued my curiosity. I’m a relatively calm person, so is the reason I haven’t experienced this because I never have highs anyway? Does it really have that effect? Are people avoiding medication when it could be an impactful part of their treatment plan?
Why Medication Can Play an Important Role in Treatment
I asked my psychiatrist this at my last appointment. He’s a cool guy; He looks like a stereotypical college professor with unkempt hair, glasses, blazers that are too big for him, and stacks of messy papers on his desk. He’s super smart and enjoys having philosophical conversations. I was interested to hear what he had to say.
His response was that stronger medications, like lithium, may have this effect. Outside of that, he explained, what could be happening is that many times when a person is depressed or anxious and they begin taking medication, their symptoms dissipate. They no longer feel the really low lows or the anxiety, but they are still faced with the underlying issue that caused their depression and anxiety to begin with.
This was an a-ha moment for me. I remember being in a therapy session some years ago and being in such a desperate state that I just sat there and cried. I literally couldn’t bring myself to do anything else. The doctor recommended that I begin taking a medication to get rid of the overwhelming feelings of sadness and worry so that we could then begin working on the reasons why I was feeling this way. It made perfect sense.
If you think about it, you start taking the medication and the intense feelings begin to lessen. However, you still don’t feel happy. “Why do I still feel blah? Wasn’t the medication supposed to fix that?”, you might ask yourself. Well no, not entirely.
At this point, it’s time for you to get to work on further managing your mental health!
What About Medication with Psychotherapy?
This is why I and many others advocate that people who are struggling with depression and anxiety take a two-pronged approach to treatment: Medication AND psychotherapy. The medication stabilizes you so that you can begin taking proper care of your mental health.
It’s not all that different than physical health. If your doctor tells you that you have high blood pressure, she may prescribe a medication to help stabilize it. She will also give you some tips on how to adjust your lifestyle to keep your blood pressure down. You may begin exercising, eating healthier, and reduce your 2 daily cups of coffee to 1. You may adjust your lifestyle so positively that eventually you no longer need to take the medication.
Your mental health is just as important as your physical health, so why not take the same approach? Your doctor prescribes medication to you for panic attacks. He then suggests that you begin psychotherapy where you focus on your thoughts and behavior. Maybe you learn about “grounding”, a technique to bring yourself out of your head and into the present. You might also begin going on daily walks and figure out that caffeine heightens your anxiety so you know to steer clear of it.
You can learn more about the different approaches of psychotherapy here.
The Key to Successful Therapy
There are some people who say that they have tried psychotherapy and it didn’t help. I used to be one of those people! From my experience, the cause for this were that the doctor was ineffective at working with me to develop the appropriate approach or they weren’t the right fit for me.
If you’re trying out therapy and feel like it’s not helping, don’t give up! You may have to visit a few different doctors or counselors before you find the right one for YOU. That is ok and perfectly normal. It will have been worth all the time and effort when you find a counselor that clicks with you and you start seeing a positive impact on your mental health.
Another potential cause of ineffective psychotherapy is actually us! Who woulda thought? 😉
We may not be open-minded to new ways of managing our mental health, or we aren’t actually applying what we learn in therapy. Progress won’t happen if we only put the work in at our therapy sessions, and then don’t practice putting it into action in our everyday lives. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it!
What About Side Effects from the Medication?
Yep, there are side effects, as with every medication out there. You have to weigh the benefits of taking the medication against the risks and decide if its worth it for you. This, of course, is a conversation you should have with your doctor. If you feel that the risks are too high, then your doctor may be able to recommend a different medication.
Medication is Not for Everyone
I’m not saying that if you’re feeling a bit stressed about a presentation you have to give at work next week, you should call your doctor up and ask for anti-anxiety medication; But if you’re feeling stressed out, sad, hopeless, or anxious for a prolonged period of time and its impacting your everyday life, there is no harm in having a conversation with your doctor about what options are available to help you, including medication.
Also, remember that if you do decide to take medication to help you along, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be on it for the rest of your life or that the only way you can be “happy” is by taking a pill. You may be bearing a tremendous amount of weight on your shoulders and you’re understandably having trouble coping with it. The medication may help to clear some of the angst out of the way so that you can focus on what you need to focus on to get through this rough season in your life. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, nor is it anything to be ashamed of.
We only have one life – do what you need to do to live it to the fullest!
Did you like this post? Then check out my other post on what its like to live with anxiety and depression.