As some of you know, a few years ago I decided to begin taking an antidepressant in efforts to treat my depression and anxiety after years of exploring other methods. It was not an easy decision, nor did I arrive at it overnight. Deciding to start taking an antidepressant took weeks of research, talks with my counselor and family doctor, and a long battle within myself to finally say “OK, I’ll try it.”
I’ll save my personal experiences with making the decision for another time, but in this and the following series of posts, I’ll try to tackle why many people decide to or not to go on medication. Also, I’ll attempt to discuss a few things one should know should they decide to make medication a part of their treatment regime, as well as medication for mental health as a whole.
So, why do we avoid medication? Here are a few reasons.
- We want to do it all by ourselves. Regardless of what type of medication and what it is treating, some people will ultimately always avoid the doctor’s office. This mindset tends to be especially harmful for mental illness, as doing it “on your own” tends to lead to isolation, ineffective coping mechanisms, and other decisions that can ultimately lead to worsening symptoms. Regardless of a person’s view on medication itself, I will always suggest seeking medical advice to someone going through bouts of mental illness.
- We don’t want to rely on something “unnatural”. There are some people who will always believe that medications are unnatural and/or will introduce undesired changes in the mind and body. While this is understandable, more often than not, various forms of mental illness can be worsened by less-than-ideal chemical levels and imbalances in the body. These are conditions traditionally treated by medication (diabetic, anyone?).
- We want to try more external options first. Most people tend to believe that making external changes to lifestyle will help. While it is true that getting enough sleep, staying active, improving work-life balance, etc. can and will help with mental illnesses, it is often very difficult to overhaul your lifestyle during bouts of depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders. Medication can and may help with that little boost we need to get going.
- Taking medication means acknowledging the problem. There is still a lot of stigma around mental health and mental illness, and unfortunately seeking help and turning to medication can (but shouldn’t) be a shameful and embarrassing experience. To this point, I always like to say that the first step to implementing a long-term solution for anything (mental health included) is to admit that you have an obstacle in your life that you can overcome, and to do so things need to change. These changes may or may not involve medication, but admitting the need for change is the best start.
Alright, got it. So why do we ultimately make the decision to try medication? Some reasons include:
- We’ve been affected by mental illness for way too long. At some point, many people will say enough is enough and will want to make the decision to begin structured treatment which may involve starting a prescription med. Medication may be the first avenue pursued, or (see below) one of the latest.
- We’ve exhausted other options. Often, people deciding to start medication have tried nearly everything else out there, and what they have tried has either not helped or only helped minimally (or for a time). It’s important to note that medication is not a panacea or fix-all solution, but it can help when combined with other treatment methods.
- It’s worked for someone we know. There’s a good chance we know someone that has tried or is currently on some form of medication for mental illness. While it is always a good thing to know someone who has first-hand experience, it is also worth noting that medication affects everyone differently, so what works for one person may not necessarily work for someone else.
In conclusion, while the tone of this post may suggest that I am entirely pro-medication (I’m not, I just know what works for me), I must stress and reiterate that at the end of the day going on any form of medication is a decision that is not to be taken lightly. If you are considering starting a prescription medication for mental illness, I urge you to do your research and reach out to as many sources as possible. Learn what you can and cannot expect from the med, and be prepared for change.
I hope this post has been informative. Next time, I’ll attempt to delve into (from the layman’s perspective) the various types of medication out there, what they do chemically, and what you can expect from them.
Any questions, comments, concerns? Feel free to reach out!