When Do You Need Medication to Treat Mental Illness?
For many years, there was a stigma around mental health, as if ailments of the mind don’t exist. Your mental health isn’t like your physical health. It’s invisible… until it isn’t, of course. When you experience a physical ailment, it is usually obvious. You might bleed or look out of shape. Snot and coughs! When your thoughts and emotions go a bit wonky, it’s different. Some people expect you to ‘get over it’ or ‘perk up’. This isn’t always possible. Thankfully, recently, the dialogue around mental health has broadened. Many public figures are speaking out about their own troubles and advocate seeking help. The tragic death of Caroline Flack rocked the nation, and recognition of how real the struggle is grew. Medication for mental illness is now readily prescribed, and it’s acceptable to share with others what medication you take. Sometimes, medication for mental health is lifesaving.
Some mental health issues are too big to manage without the support of a psychiatrist. After a conversation with your doctor and/or psychiatrist, the support of a therapist may still benefit you. However, it is important to report back to your therapist what the doctor recommends, and vice versa.
Benefits of Medication for Mental Illness
Although I believe medication for mental health is paramount in some situations, I also believe that we, as a society, need to recognise that the pharmaceutical model is just one of many. In the UK, it is the medicinal model offered by the NHS. A doctor has the qualifications to diagnose an ailment and provide the medicine that will help it. Unfortunately, the system does not afford them the time to completely personalise treatment or provide alternative and complimentary treatments. If you have the capacity, financially and energetically, to personalise your own treatment by seeing various practitioners, you will likely find a way to improve your condition without medication, or at least make lifestyle changes that enable you to reduce the medication you take.
However, as previously mentioned, medication is lifesaving for some people. Medication is the difference between having the motivation to get out of bed in the morning or to exit the house and buy yourself some dinner. It may help you find the energy to wash and dress yourself in the morning, so you can go to work instead of taking another sick day. Medication for mental illness might help you seek the support you need to make the lifestyle changes that will improve your life and reduce your need for mental health medication. I recommend everyone read The Anatomy of Anxiety by Dr. Ellen Vora before they start taking medication for anxiety or depression, it’s a quick read that you can cover in a couple of days if necessary.
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Anxiety & Depression
Anxiety is a common mental health problem. We live in a situation where people can no longer prioritise the money to heat their homes or feed their family fully nutritious foods. The busyness of life further separates us from our natural selves. There is little time to step back into the natural world. We put our circadian rhythm out of whack every day with strong, unnatural lighting. We cannot sleep, feel down and continually worry. Anxiety struggles make sense when you consider how the human body evolved to survive compared to how we live.
Medications Prescribed for the Psychological Benefit
Depression is less easy to understand. Neurologists do not have all the answers. They have some research and possible answers, but nothing certain. There is access to medications that work for some people – sometimes.
In his book, Why Zebra’s don’t get Ulcers, Robert Sapolsky explains some reasons some people experience depression. They involve the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. Sapolsky explains, the best evidence we have for this is that most drugs that reduce depression increase the signalling of one or more of these neurotransmitters.
Some neuroscientists believe serotonin is responsible for the ideation in depression, the wallowing in dark thoughts. Norephinephrine might take responsibility for the slowing down, psychomotor retardation, that occurs in depression. Dopamine is paramount in pleasure. The pleasure pathway in the brain heavily uses dopamine, so too little of it may cause dysfunction in the pleasure pathway. The current problem is that these possibilities are not fool proof. Although doctors prescribe mental health medication for its psychological benefit, there is little scientific evidence and nothing that tells doctors which type of medication will help which person. My blog post here answers some questions you might wonder about antidepressants and how they work.
You might like to try medication for your mental health if your thoughts impede your life, and you cannot muster the energy to seek help any other way. If you successfully find the medication that works for you, you will get back the life you deserve.