Published on July 9th, 2013 | by Kristen Kansiewicz
Top Concerns About Psychiatric Medications
In my years of practice as a licensed counselor, I have talked with many clients about the option of medication as a part of their mental health treatment. This can be a touchy subject for those who are skeptical about the medical or pharmaceutical industries or for those who are deeply spiritual.
Sometimes referred to as “psychiatric medications” or “happy pills,” the medicines that treat mental illnesses or mood disorders are properly called “psychotropic drugs” or “psychotropic medications.” This category encompases medications for treating depression, bipolar and bipolar II, anxiety, panic, and other mental health problems.
In this article, I will respond to the six most common concerns I have heard related to taking mental health medication.
“I don’t believe in psychiatric medications.”
This person doesn’t “believe in medication.” This concern may point to a disbelief that medications actually work. While not every medication will be effective for every person, there are too many research studies to count affirming that medications are effective at treating mental health problems. It is also possible that this person does not believe in TAKING medication (i.e. she feels it is wrong for her). This often leads to the next concern:
“I should be able to handle my emotions on my own.”
This statement highlights why she may feel mental health medication is wrong for her: “I should be able to handle my emotions on my own.” Notice that sneaky second word “should.” She is not feeling able to handle her emotions, but feels she SHOULD be able to do so. If this is your line of thinking, I want to encourage you to take a little pressure off of yourself. No human being can handle all of her emotions without support of many kinds (friends, hobbies, spiritual vitality, exercise, and possibly medication). If you are finding that you are unable to manage your emotions, it may be a sign that your body needs a little extra help functioning properly. As Albert Ellis once said, “Don’t should on yourself!” Treat yourself kindly, and be realistic about your limitations.
“Aren’t we a ‘Prozac’ nation now? People think medication will solve all their problems, and it doesn’t. I’m not going to be a part of that.”
While it is unfortunately true that antidepressants are often casually prescribed, you understand your own emotional life best. If you are looking for a quick fix to all of life’s problems, medication will not deliver that for you. But taking medication when you need it does not mean you are participating in a broken system; rather, you are using a medication for the condition it was designed to treat.
Most often when a depressed person takes an antidepressant, I hear them say, “Wow, I really feel like myself again. I still have issues I need to work through, but I feel like I can actually cope with life!” Taking medication should return you to yourself, not create a magical state in which you levitate beyond problems.
“I think medication might help me, but I’m afraid of all the side effects.”
Unfortunately, all medications do have side effects. If you ever watch a commercial for any type of medication, the “you may experience ” list is enough to send anyone running, But most of those side effects are rare and unlikely.
A common concern is weight gain. Some women do experience weight gain when they take an antidepressant. There is some evidence of metabolic changes that may slow down your ability to burn calories, and sometimes weight gain is caused by your brain not noticing that you are full, causing you to eat more. If you struggle with a slow metabolism anyway, you may want to ask your doctor about Wellbutrin. This particular antidepressant is the only one not associated with weight gain and may actually encourage weight loss.
For changes in appetite, try keeping a food journal. If you are not being restrictive in your eating, then you can simply monitor for any changes and stick to your baseline eating prior to starting medications.
You can also exercise. In fact, if you are able to be motivated enough to moderately exercise 30 to 60 minutes per day, you should try this prior to trying medications. In some cases, exercise has been shown to work just as effectively as medications in treating depression symptoms. Sometimes, your depression symptoms prevent you from having enough motivation and energy to begin or maintain an exercise routine. If this is the case for you, it might be best to try a low dose of medication prescribed by your doctor and then add in exercise when you feel up to it.
“The Bible says I shouldn’t be anxious and that I should be filled with joy. I must need to pray more or have more faith, because if I were a real Christian I wouldn’t feel this way.”
I practice as a licensed counselor on staff at my church, so I see many Christians as clients. For Christians, the idea of taking psychiatric medications can be particularly concerning. Almost every Christian client I have had who needed medication struggled with the idea that taking meds was an admission that she did not trust God enough.
Aside from this, just HAVING anxiety or depression issues may make you feel like you are a sub-standard Christian. Do you feel like all other Christians seem filled to overflowing with joy when you feel at your worst? If so, your perspective on others (as well as your view of yourself) may not be accurate. The fact is that even Christians (who, by the way, continue to be human beings) develop mental health problems. This has absolutely nothing to do with your ability to follow the Bible or trust God. The heart of Christianity is an admission that ALL of us have issues. We will continue to get sick, develop cancer, and need medications for all kinds of health and mental health problems. In my opinion, any pursuit of health focuses on God’s primary devotion: life. Often, feeling like you should “just pray more” is really a reliance on self rather than on God.
Trust God with your whole life, with your health, and get the help you need as you do so.
“If I have to take medication, I’d think of myself as REALLY crazy.”
Judging yourself isn’t going to help anything. Underneath this statement is a fear of “being crazy.” Perhaps your depression or anxiety issues have left you wondering if maybe you seem crazy to others.
I have heard people describe feeling like they are losing themselves, that they feel detached from reality and from themselves. These symptoms, called depersonalization and derealization, are symptoms of depression and are likely to go away with effective medication treatment.
Taking medication does not mean you must wear a sign that says, “Now I’m really crazy, watch out!” Whether or not you choose to tell anyone that you are taking mental health medication is up to you. Don’t let fear of labels stop you from getting help.
Not everyone struggling with emotional problems needs medication. Only you and your doctor can assess your physical and mental health needs. If you have been resistant to the idea of taking medication, give yourself permission to be open to all your options. Getting well is well worth it!
Image by Dima V via Stock.Xchng.