With school picking up and routines drastically changing I’ve been living on a wing and a prayer, and doing great actually. Throughout the last few weeks I’ve been pondering this post about medication and mental illness. It’s such a tricky topic, and I don’t plan on getting deep but here’s a couple questions I’ve gotten repeatedly in one form or another through the years so I thought I’d just kind of go from there.
Why meds, what do they even do? Without getting all sciency on you (and many of you know I love to get all sciency). Medications can help balance the activity in the brain. Some mental health situations can be caused by increases or decreases in specific neurotransmitters, or having too many or too few neuroreceptors. This is also why you shouldn’t tell someone to “shake it off.” In their head they are probably yelling (or they may literally yell) “I’D LOVE TO, DO YOU THINK I LIKE THIS?” Sure we are all victims to a bad day, or letting things control how we feel, but this is not what I’m talking about. There are many types of depression, not including other health conditions that could also lead to depression as well as other mental health conditions like bi-polar disorder which may trigger depressive episodes. Medications are one of many different treatments available for depression.
Want to read more about what depression is? Check out the National Institute of Mental Health.
Why don’t you just stay on your meds? This is such a fun one because there’s no perfect answer. If the medication you are taking is actually working then you may feel great, minus side effects of the medications, so you want to go off them. I know you’re thinking that it should be obvious that the medications may be what are helping you out of the darkness but it’s not always so black and white to someone who has to pop a pill(s) daily.
Are the side effects really that bad? It depends on the medication. It can be something like appetite change to decrease in sex drive. Other side effects (especially in things like anti-psychotics) can be life threatening and so it’s always super important to work WITH your doctor when discussing changes. Some medications I’ve been on have helped keep me from slipping into darkness but instead make me feel like a fog person. Like there’s no highs or lows, just an annoying mellow fog. Not everyone gets the same side effects so there’s no easy fix with this. It often comes down to outweighing the pros and cons.
Why not just read your scriptures and pray more, just avoid the medication? This has been posed to me multiple times. I no longer get offended by it (I know you mean well, but just don’t say this) but do like to reply “if it was a medication for my heart failure would you be giving me this same advice?” Prayer and personal study are a part of my life, and for some this may actually be a great solution, for me it’s a part of the treatment not the whole of it. I’m sure there are some devout that may think that maybe my faith is lacking, but that’s okay, I know where I stand with my Heavenly Father. Once when I was crying about feeling “crazy” and the Lord handing me this challenge when I didn’t want to take my medication when I was a very young adult my mother said something with tears in her eyes that I’ll never forget, even if she probably has:
“Barbara the Lord has blessed you tremendously. You are born in a time where things that are going on in your head may not be widely understood but instead of being committed and locked up like they would have done a hundred years ago, there is help, even if it’s in the form of a pill. You will get through this, we will help you and you will be able to accomplish your goals and dreams.”
This hit home with me when I was doing a rotation at the state hospital and saw a list of conditions that people used to be institutionalized for. Besides “Hysteria” and “melancholy” there were things like “Epilepsy.” It made me realize that both JD and I are blessed to live in a world with medications to help our brain chemistry. My mom is right. I’m not almost done with nursing school, and have an amazing little family. I am blessed.
If one med doesn’t work why don’t you just try another? It can take weeks to months for the medications to take effect. If it doesn’t work you also often have to tier down the dosages because stopping abruptly can be dangerious. So imagine taking a medication for 3 weeks and then realizing it wasn’t helping (or even making things worse) so then you take another week or two to get off it before you start all over again with something new. All of this is being done while you are struggling with the illness. There is a lot of hope with the advancements in genetic testing and mental health medications so that patients and providers can see which medications would be most beneficial for each individual patient but this is still a relatively new field. It’ll be exciting to see where the science takes us.
You stopped taking a medication that was working because of cost? Yes. This can be a big factor. For example, a few years ago I was put on a new medication that was fantastic for me. It worked better than anything I’d ever been on with the least amount of side effects. The problem was it was over $300 a month out of pocket because insurance wouldn’t cover the medication, and because it was new there was no generic available. Now this could spin off onto a tangent about pharmaceutical companies but I’ll refrain. Even after the insurance company started to cover it my co-pay was $75. In our house we are no strangers to medications, between my heart failure and JD’s epilepsy we fork over a hefty chunk of change to the local pharmacy each month. For a low income student family this is a huge challenge and if it comes down to seizure meds or mental health meds the seizure meds will win every time. I have learned through the years to look at the individual pharmaceutical companies since many do offer assistance to help low income individuals have access to the medications they need.
Do you really care about stigma? I wish I didn’t, but I do. If I’m taking one of my medications for my heart I don’t care what others think, but if I’m taking a mental health medication for some reason I fear people will see me as less. Mr. Cruz didn’t help this situation all those years ago when he bashed Brooke Shields for taking an antidepressant but lets face it, he’s obviously got his own struggles. As a society we are becoming more excepting to the physically disabled, but even that’s taken so many years. Those with invisible disabilities and diseases, or mental illnesses still face a lot of hurdles in society. As much as people want over night change, history has shown us that probably won’t happen. I however remain optimistic, because there is change. I can see it just in my adult life. For those struggling it’s vital to remember you are not less then others around you. Your depression is not an a big red flag of weakness, but a medical condition that is treatable in so many ways. Reach out, don’t hide and have hope.