I am on, currently, seven medications (not counting the prescription I just got to manage the pain of my headaches until I see a neurologist). I see a lot of people who talk about “big pharma” and how people should handle their mental health with supplements and not psychiatric medication. While I believe that pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies are totally screwing us over on costs, I do not believe medication is “unnecessary” for everyone. Whether or not you take medication has to be up to you and your doctor, but if your blood pressure is at a stroke risk level, you take blood pressure medication. In my mind, if your mental health is at risk of hurting your life in some fashion, you should consider the same types of options.
While eating healthy and exercise and supplements and yoga and meditation and whathaveyou can take people far, it can’t take everyone all the way to where they need to be in order to live more fulfilling lives. These things could help your blood pressure too… but they can’t help everyone. There are drawbacks to medications, all medications, not just psych meds. The medication I took for my high brain pressure, for example, took away my sex drive. Blood pressure medications often have that side effect as well. It sucks. I know it sucks. Well… sometimes it can be funny as well.
While I was still married and doing the first medication switches, I always read the potential side effects so I knew what was to be expected. I didn’t always remember to tell my husband the ones I was experiencing unless they were REALLY bad. One night, in bed, he poked his head out from under the covers and asked, “Is there something I should know?” I had started a new medication a couple days before and in the less common side effects was “lactation.” Guess who the lucky winner of “less common side effects” usually is? I did notice it was happening, I totally forgot to mention it. This is a much more common side effect of “pregnancy” … Luckily, it was just the Risperdal.
What I experience when I don’t have the right medication, and during the times when I had no medication, is far more frightening to me than the side effects that I have experienced. Negative side effects that I could not handle (like a medication that dropped my appetite to nothing and I did not eat for five days straight) are temporary. If I contact the doctor and they tell me how to come off the medication safely, within days I’m fine again. Being so anxious that small things like dropping a bowl make me cry for hours because I don’t know what to do and shut down, so depressed that I end up at the edge of a river… these “side effects” of mental illness can last for weeks, months, years, or until death.
Not everyone needs medication. Some people can learn the coping skills they need to move through life without it. Some people have healthy enough bodies that they will not need medications for physical reasons well into the second half of their life. Some people need to take insulin for the diabetes no matter how healthy they try to be… Me? I need to take psychiatric medications as well as physical ones because my brain needs the chemicals to function properly.
I don’t expect to change anyone’s mind who consistently uses the phrase “big pharma” while talking about conspiracies to keep people sick. I just want you to know that I know my medications are necessary for me, and that I see no more shame in taking my lithium than in taking my blood pressure medication. They are both keeping me alive. If supplements, talk therapy and yoga aren’t doing it for you, I encourage you to seek psychiatric counsel. If your heart was sick, you’d go to the doctor, please don’t treat your brain with any less care.