To Take Or Not to Take Psychiatric Medication

The topic of psychiatric medication can be a hot button. Are medications helpful? Are medications used as an unnecessary crutch? Psychiatric medication can be defined as a medication that affects mental state and can be used to treat a mental health diagnosis. For example, medications that assist with depression, anxiety or delusions among other symptoms would be considered psychiatric medication. There are many considerations when deciding to take or not to take psychiatric medications.

Even therapists don’t agree on if and when psychiatric medication is appropriate. While most therapists seem to assess situations on a case by case basis, the discussion of the use of medications often brings out a polarity in a few professionals. Some professionals will say medication is never OK and others seem to believe that medication is the answer to all that ails you.

You are an individual and your needs will not necessarily match another person’s needs. Everyone should be individually assessed to see if medication is a suitable intervention. Medication will not always be the correct treatment.

If you do an internet search on overuse of psychiatric medications – pages of matches will pop up with articles detailing concerns Cliniverse Research about excess use of psychiatric medication. Medication is not best used to minimize appropriate emotions. Sometimes you just might be sad or angry. Sometimes you might be going through a rough time. Have you suffered a loss? You may acutely feel that loss periodically for a couple of years or longer. Humans are emotional beings and it is acceptable to have emotions without necessarily needing medication. Part of being human is sometimes feeling bad or frustrated or even a little out of control of situations. If medication is used to mute regular emotions you may miss out on some of the joy and trials of your life journey.

Conversely, there are situations where psychiatric medication makes the difference from living a life of unmanageable anxiety, fear, or depression to having a manageable, content life. If an individual is unable to function because of mental health issues, medication may be appropriate.

It seems beneficial to think carefully about taking psychiatric medication. Don’t dismiss the idea out of hand but don’t believe it will be the answer to all your problems either. Even with medication you will have good and bad days. Be open but trust your instincts. Try also not to let feelings of shame make the decision for you. There is nothing shameful about utilizing psychiatric medication. Review the input from others but make the decision that is best for you.

Also, consider where you get the prescription for psychiatric medication. Many people obtain psychiatric prescriptions from their primary care doctor. If you are thinking of starting a psychiatric medication think about, at least initially, of having a medication evaluation with a psychiatrist – especially if you aren’t in therapy. A psychiatrist is specifically trained in psychiatric medications and may know more up to date information about the drug and have more experience with side effects and how the treatment manages symptoms. There are exceptions when you might choose to use your primary care doctor. Does your primary care doctor might know you extremely well? Have you already been on a medication for a long time and are stable? Are you integrated in other services assisting with mental health? When choosing a prescriber think about how you wouldn’t go to a psychiatrist for a sinus infection because that is not what he or she does so why would you go to your primary care doctor for mental health treatment. Decide and do what will be best (maybe not easiest) for you.

Questions to ask yourself and your doctor when considering psychiatric medication

· What are my goals with this medication? What am I thinking will be the results? Have I tried other interventions? (For example – therapy, meditation, yoga, support groups, spiritual group, educational programs etc.)

· Are my symptoms unmanageable without medication? (For example if you have hallucinations or depression where you aren’t leaving your house or have suicidal ideation.)

· If you are considering giving your child psychiatric medication ask yourself – what am I hoping will happen? What will be the benefits for my child? Is this medication being given to assist the adults in his or her life or to benefit the child? Have I really tried alternate interventions?

· What are the side effects? Do the side effects dissipate over time?

· How long until I feel any different?

· What kind of physical changes might I feel?

· Will the medication interact with any of my other medications or affect any of my other medical conditions?

· How is this medication monitored? Some prescriptions require periodic labs to measure the level of medication in your system.

· How long will I be on this medication? Is this a medication I will be taking forever?

· Is the medication being used “off-label?” A medication may be safe and FDA approved for one indication but a physician is allowed to prescribe the medication for another reason. If a medication is being prescribed “off-label” getting clarification of how and why it works for your condition may be helpful.

There are many other questions you might consider. It is OK to speak up for yourself and take responsibility for making the best informed decision for you. Talk to your physician or mental health professional and take steps to meet your needs.

Julie Fanning LCSW has a private practice in West Dundee, IL.

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