Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Challenging Misconceptions About Psychiatric Medication


In the spirit of my recently posted piece about misconceptions regarding mental illness, I thought I would tackle misconceptions about psychiatric medication. Every misconception I address here is something I have personally heard another person state. Please bear in mind that I am not a doctor, so if you have questions about your medication, please speak to your provider. This is for the general benefit of people who believe these misconceptions. It is not meant to provide guidance when it comes to your meds or the meds of someone you know.

1. Psych meds make you a different person.

While psych meds can make you behave differently, they absolutely cannot make you a different person. For the most part, psych meds that work create change for the better. They can stop manic episodes, panic attacks, random outbursts and much more. Sure, the wrong meds can have the wrong effect, and it takes some fine-tuning to find the right one, but no psych med is going to completely change a personality. Also, please bear in mind that the patient welcomes some changes in behavior. Where you might see your friend as less fun, she may see herself as more comfortable and stable. It's her life.

2. Psych meds make you a zombie.

I know where this comes from. Clearly, there are some psych meds that slow people down. They are not for everyone and should be prescribed carefully. Tranquilizers are for severe cases/episodes, as are drugs like lithium, which can have a dazing effect on patients. For the most part, people are prescribed these drugs without those "zombie" effects that are so popularly cited by Scientology types. The right dose given to someone who actually needs that specific medicine should not zone him or her out. Of course, some people need high doses to deal with extreme episodes, but that's another thing altogether. We don't suggest stopping the use of pain meds for extreme pain just because it makes the patient dopey.

3. Psych meds don't work.

Well, psych meds definitely don't cure mental illness. Sadly, it's not like a vaccine or an antibiotic. That would be awesome. Seriously, sign me up.

Okay, so psychiatric medication can't cure mental illness, but it can improve quality of life. I've had three extreme episodes of OCD in my life that lasted up to six months each. I lost dozens of pounds each time. I worked less. I was depressed. I thought about suicide a lot. I mostly didn't have a choice about what I thought. The recovery stages of each of those episodes have one thing in common–psych meds. I'm pretty sure I didn't die from depression and OCD because there were medications available to me. Mind you, I can't predict what would have happened without them, but I know how I felt.

Now, I know there are people who cite suicide rates among people taking psych meds as a reason to stop prescribing them. Two things: 1. There is a small subset of people who can have increased suicidal ideation on certain medications. Doctors are aware of this and are supposed to monitor them. 2. A LOT of people on psych meds were suicidal before they began taking medication. The chicken was there before the pill, if you know what I mean.

4. Psych meds keep you sick.

Mental illness keeps you sick. Lack of treatment keeps you sick. Improper use of controlled substances can keep you sick. Medication monitored diligently by a trained professional who is taking the utmost care with your case will not keep you sick. That doesn't mean you won't stay sick, but some of us are treatment resistant, and psych meds aren't cures.

When it comes to your body and your mind, do what you think is best. Follow the guidance of medical experts you trust. Try not to listen to health gurus online. If something works for you, do it. You shouldn't suffer because someone else thinks psychiatry is bad. They don't have to live your life. On the same token, if you feel like homeopathic remedies are helping, and they don't react with prescribed medications you take, do that. It's about feeling better, not making other people feel vindicated about their opinions.