By Valerie Rice, October 6, 2020
Welcome to America, the land of the overworked, underpaid, highly stressed human who is probably taking some kind of pill to deal with their reality. Can’t sleep? Have a pill. Working 60 hours a week and still can”t pay your rent and it makes you want to cry all the time? Yah, sucks to suck, doesn’t it? Have a pill to feel better. My point is that no matter how you feel, the industry has a pill to make you feel “better.” That isn’t to say that all psych meds are bad. In fact, many people actually need them to function normally. The fact that these medications are advertised everywhere, and directed at consumers, however, is ridiculous. Do I sound biased and preachy? You bet your butt. So let’s take a closer look at what YOU need to know when it comes to medication and mental health.
Find a Competent Provider
Alright folks, first things first. Not all medical providers are created equal. And if you think the pharmaceutical companies are targeting YOU, just think how much garbage someone with an MD after their name must be getting. Seriously, I took one of my kids to a med provider and she cycled through free office samples for months before I threw up my hands and switched providers. It took me quite a while to figure out her doctorate was in education; she was only allowed to prescribe because she was an NP. It was a mess. So do your research! You want someone who knows what they are talking about, so look for a psychiatrist or an MD with a lot of experience in mental health. Medicine is kind of a wide field of study, ya know? Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If they are not comfortable answering you, they probably aren’t going to be a good fit. You need someone who will work with you, not against you. This is your brain. Check google reviews. Seriously. That’s a really good way to hear from other patients without violating confidentiality. Do not ever sign up blind. Not even your PC may know a whole bunch about this stuff, so trust the other people first.
Understand the Risks
Okay, so you found a decent doctor and she prescribes you….Cymbalta. Are you going to go home and take it? Hell, no! Before you leave that office you ask about all the possible side effects, any interactions with current medications, and any potential withdrawal symptoms. Why? Well, for a few reasons. First of all, you really need to know what you are putting in your body and also to see if the doctor knows what she is doing. Plus some medications, like Cymbalta, have minimal side effects but horrendous withdrawal effects that most doctors won’t tell you about. This means you have to continue taking it forever or taper slowly off. Actually, the study done by the manufacturer of Cymbalta showed that the withdrawal effects are not only horrendous but even with a taper they can last for longer than 6 months. Is this common knowledge? No. I happened to run across this study in my psychopharmacology class, but the warning is there, on every bottle, and most people throw it away because they can’t understand most of the words. So have your provider explain it ALL before you leave the office.
Okay, so I seriously ragged on Cymbalta there for a minute. Hell, I take it, and I’m fine. I have Fibromyalgia and it is the only medication that helps with the nerve pain. Just know what you are getting into. For me, it was the last resort.
Weigh Your Options
Remember how I mentioned a lot of people take medication for everything, whether they need it or not? This is an unfortunate reality, and often a knee jerk reaction of healthcare providers who don’t really know better. Many people are overmedicated because they don’t have time or energy to deal with emotions. Then there are people with actual pathologies who require medications. There is a huge difference between the discomfort we feel with loss, grief, or normal sadness and depression, or the exuberance of youth and ADHD or the natural moodiness of adolescence and bipolar disorder. These are your brain chemicals being messed with people. You can cause permanent damage to yourself if you try to fix what ain’t broken. So if it isn’t a serious need, don’t do it. Speak to a mental health professional about alternatives to medication, like therapy. Therapy is not going to solve everything, hence the medication, but it is a good first step for many people, and the person to best help you determine when you should go on medications is a competent professional. Therapy takes time and effort, so be willing to work. You got this!
There is More Than One Type
Alrighty, let’s get medical. Sort of. You have more than one brain chemical, so it makes sense that there would be more than one type of medication to balance them. There are four main types of medications your doctor could prescribe for you depending on your needs. They are mood stabilizers, antipsychotics, stimulants, and antidepressants. Not to freak you out, but there are also four main types of antidepressants: MAOI, SSI, SSRI, SNRI; And there are about a million or so of each type. This is why someone who specializes in psychiatric care is essential. Each one of these medications has its own special set of side effects and complications as well as positive effects. Look, not to beat a dead horse, but an MD can deliver a baby just fine, but I’m going to see an OB/GYN for prenatal care if you know what I mean.
Use Them Wisely
Medications are not for everybody, and if they are for you, they are not always a long-term solution. Unless, of course, you have schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, or a similar disorder, that has been diagnosed by a mental health professional. Otherwise, they are a temporary solution to your problem. People with lifelong chemical disorders know that you need to take your medicine every single day in order for it to work. And so should you. Set a timer for the morning, evening, before bed, or whenever your bottle says to take your medicine and take it every single day. Did I mention that these are your brain chemicals? Yeah. That organ in charge of literally everything else in your body. Don’t mess it up, right? So do it every day. Most psych meds take 6-8 weeks to build up in your body and start working. And don’t just quit taking them one day because you feel like it. Go back to that doctor and talk about how to safely get off the medication if you believe you don’t need it anymore.
The bottom line is that psych meds will mess you up if you do not need them. They just happen to be overused and targeting the wrong audience. So, find a doctor who knows what they’re doing, is someone you can trust and is willing to see you as essential to making your own healthcare decisions. No god-complex ones; that’s just trouble in the mental health field. You might end up with the wrong diagnosis and labeled as argumentative when you are trying to advocate for yourself. Make sure you are making informed decisions and, above all, take care of yourself.