There’s some debate across the mental health community whether or not we should take meds to treat our mental illness. I personally take (quite a lot) of medication. I must admit I myself had some reservations about taking medication to treat my issues, like what if I end up being on them all my life? What if I will forever rely on them to keep me well? and “what would other people think”. I was once on this meditation app where you could talk to others and I briefly mentioned being on sleeping pills (for insomnia and depression) to which he told me that’s bad and I shouldn’t be on them.
My neurofeedback therapist would promise me a recovery miracle and that I could ween myself off meds, before leaving me for another project. We live in a world where taking medication for physical illness is considered necessary but meds for mental illness is shameful and I don’t think it should be. When I studied psychology in college we discussed the topic of taking medication for things like depression, both the benefits and the risk, we were encouraged to try and take a balanced point of view in essays. So, while I do take medication and don’t feel ashamed of it, I will try to tell you all I know about meds both the good and the bad.
MY MEDICATION STORY
I first started taking medication in 2015/16 as I had severe depression to the point I felt stuck in life and that I may be better off dead. I was in college at the time and it was my final year so the pressure was on with coursework, exams, university applications and other responsibilities. Because of all this work and pressure I felt I didn’t have time for therapy or the time to properly take care of my mental health. So, after scrawling “I NEED FUCKING MEDS” as well as other angry writings on my bedroom wall, I went to the doctor to talk about the possibility of getting medication for my depression. After a long few months where I felt hopeful that things were looking up, the suicidality came back to the point I was fantasizing about suicide during lessons. I eventually quit college.
Quitting college took some pressure off of me and I started seeing a counsellor but after experiencing a traumatic event my mental health declined again and it was decided my issues were too severe for the type of counselling I was getting. So I was left with nothing but an increased dose of Fluoxetine and some melatonin to help me sleep. During the summer of 2016 I ended up in the hospital psych ward and was prescribed 25mg of lamotrigine which is traditionally used to treat bipolar but can help with BPD mood swings.
For the next year I was in and out of A&E with suicidal thoughts but didn’t get admitted again. When my dad saw just how bad my mental health was he got me to see a private therapist who treated me with neurofeedback which helped a lot but I was still struggling with insomnia and PMS problems. For the insomnia I was originally prescribed melatonin but we found it wasn’t strong enough so it was replaced with mirtazapine. This is a sleeping pill as well as an antidepressant that has worked wonders in getting me to sleep at night where I used to really struggle before. Nonetheless a few weeks before my red visitor came along I would experience more emotional instability, fragility and suicidal tendencies that not even all my meds could help with so about two months ago I was put on the pill. Now my period actually starts near the right time and I don’t experience such severe PMS for so long now which is awesome.
I’d say that fluoxetine has helped me more with my anxiety and OCD symptoms rather than depression. Before fluoxetine I would obsess about being clean, smelling nice, germs and what other people thought of me but with fluoxetine that’s calmed down. With lamotrigine my mood swings are less frantic and more stable. You’d definitely notice a difference in my behavior if I forgot to take it. The downside though is that it has given me more weird, vivid dreams at night. Like I said, Mirtazapine has really helped improve my sleep pattern. However a side effect of it is increased appetite so I’ve rapidly gained weight while I’ve been taking it, but for me that was a good thing as I was very underweight, I do need to get my appetite under control though.
If your mental illness is mainly chemical or hormone based, meds can really help. For example the Pill can be good at regulating hormones during PMS while antidepressants/anxiety meds can help increase the brain’s intake of serotonin.
Medication can help stabilize your brain enough so that you can handle therapy. My psychology teacher once said that medication works well with therapy as you may be too emotionally unbalanced for the treatment to really work, but medication can help you find that balance. Lamotrogine helped me in this case.
It’s a good alternative if you can’t afford, don’t have access to, or just don’t have the time for therapy. As I mentioned before, I started taking meds because I didn’t think I had the time for therapy. Medication can take up to 2 weeks to take effect but its quicker and easier to take a pill as you rush off to work or school than have to take time away from those things for therapy.
There can be side effects that make your problems worse; lamotrigine can give me weird dreams/nightmares and fluoxetine can make depressive symptoms, such as suicidal or self harm thoughts, worse in young people. Other mental health medications can be addictive too and anti-psychotics, which are mainly used to treat schizophrenia, can cause problems such as tremors.
It’s not a one-size-fits-all treatment, finding which type of medication and which dose works best for you is a pain. You may suffer side effects or no effects at all which can be incredibly frustrating. It’s not a quick fix either as, like I mentioned earlier, medication can take up to two weeks or longer to really change anything.
Admitting you may need medication can feel like admitting defeat to your demons as there is so much shame around the concept and the “just get over it” “think positively” attitude can hurt us more than medication will as we’re taught to power through our problems instead of address them which can make people less likely to go to therapy anyway.
Medication doesn’t deal with the cause of your mental health problems, only the symptoms. Unless your problems with mental health are solely based on chemicals and hormones, the problem will not be dealt with by medication. If your mental illness is the result of trauma or negative thought patterns its best to get therapy to help process and truly recover. I am attending DBT and teaching myself CBT as well as taking medication, the combination of the two is helping.
MY THOUGHTS and ADVICE
Now I’m not saying that you should go on medication. I don’t know you or your life so meds may not even be right for you and that’s okay but only you can decide that for yourself. You know how it feels to be you, live in your mind and body so only you will know what’s right for them. I would like to give you some advice if you are considering taking medication.
RESEARCH what your doctor wants to prescribe you, really look at the leaflet provided as well as online. It can be good to get other people’s personal experience with the meds as well.
Keep in touch with your GP/psychiatrist. When you’re first put on medication your doctor should book you in for a review in about two weeks to check on you and how the medication is affecting you, please attend these reviews. If they were prescribed to you by a psychiatrist they should do the same but it may take several months to get a review from them. If you start experiencing problems/side effects then please consult with either of them ASAP.
GET ADVICE- if your GP hasn’t mentioned meds to you but you think it could be useful then be sure to bring it up with them and get their advice. If you have access to a psychologist then you could get their input too.
For those of you who don’t have mental illnesses or don’t need to take medication I’m going to use an analogy to explain what taking meds for mental illness is like for me. My mum once described MH meds as a safety cushion or blanket that softens your landing when you fall, so when your mental health goes down hill, it doesn’t go down as hard or fast as it would without medication. I would also describe my meds as armbands or a life jacket keeping me afloat in the ocean of life as I learn to swim without drowning or getting overwhelmed. I hope that makes sense to you and if you read all the way through to this bit thank you! I know this blog post was rather long so thanks for sticking with me. If you have any questions or thoughts on mental health and medication then please don’t hesitate to let me know. Thanks for reading ❤
More about MH and Meds:
Medicate By Gabbie Hanna (TheGabbieshow)