Picture the following scenarios:
Eleven-year-old Daniel has been suffering from impulsivity, inability to focus and other behavioral and mental health symptoms for years. He has few friends, tense relationships with his siblings and performs poorly in school, despite being very bright.
Recently, 15-year old Rivky has become withdrawn and unhappy. She is no longer interested in hanging out with friends or playing piano, which she used to love. Rivky has a lot of trouble sleeping and is often irritable during the day. Her grades are good, but she doesn’t seem to take pride in them anymore.
What started as a harmless quirk has turned into a dangerous habit for 24-year-old Rebecca. She used to enjoy playing with her hair and twirling it around her fingers. Now, she has noticed that she will pull hair out of her head and pick at her mosquito bites. She is terrified of elevators and dogs.
After an evaluation by a psychiatrist, these individuals are left with a diagnosis and a prescription for psychotropic medication.
It can be stressful and confusing to be faced with the dilemma of whether or not to medicate yourself or your child. There are many hesitations:
– You don’t want you/your child to become overly dependent on the medication or foster a need to be medicated for life.
– You are concerned about short/long term side effects that you/your child may suffer.
– You are concerned that you/your child will view him/herself as sick, a failure, defective or weak.
– You are concerned that others will view you/your child as sick, a failure, defective or weak.
– You do not want you/your child/family to be stigmatized or labeled.
– You want to try a holistic or naturopathic method first.
– Psychiatry appointments and medication can be a large expense that isn’t always covered by insurance.
The above concerns are valid, and choosing to begin a course of medication is a decision that takes time and research. One important theme to keep in mind, when making the decision, is do the costs outweigh the benefits? This is a question we contemplate many times a day, every day. I have an hour commute each day, but I do it because I need to work to support my family. I’m nice to my mother-in-law even though she is a difficult woman because ultimately it’s best for my marriage. I take my blood pressure medication even though it makes me tired and gives me headaches because I don’t want to go into cardiac arrest. Many things in life have side effects, but we do them because we calculate that ultimately, it’s more beneficial to us to “take the medicine.”
So why is psychiatric medication any different?
Here are some points to consider:
Medication can reduce your suffering. Chances are, if you are considering talk therapy or medication, you’ve already been suffering for quite a while. So many people will think, “I’ll wait for this to pass” or “I’ll just stick it out” or “I don’t even take Tylenol when I have a headache, so there’s no way I’m going to try psychiatric medication.” I’ve also heard, more than a few times, “I guess this is just what I have to deal with in life right now.” With the right medication, you can begin to live your life again, instead of just existing in it. Remember Rebecca? Once she started a course of medication for her anxiety and OCD, she began to feel much calmer and she no longer pulls out her hair when she’s feeling anxious.
Medication can improve your quality of life. Once Rivky began taking an antidepressant for her depression, she began feeling more like herself. Hanging out with her friends was fun again, just like it used to be, and she had a renewed sense of enjoyment from making music.
The right medication can improve your interpersonal relationships. It’s difficult to be around someone who is often miserable, irritable or anxious. In Daniel’s case, starting a course of stimulant medication for ADHD greatly reduced his hyperactivity and impulsiveness. As a result, his relationships with his siblings and his peers improved. For the first time, Daniel felt like he had close friends.
Taking medication can improve your functioning. Suffering from anxiety or depression can sap you of so much energy because you are constantly fighting the crushing and negative feelings. Chances are you may be having trouble sleeping as well. Consider all of the time wasted just trying to manage the overwhelming feelings. The right medication can help soothe your nervous system so that you are free to use your energy for your relationships, hobbies, career or whatever else is important to you.
Medication can keep you from falling further behind behaviorally and emotionally. When a person is suffering from an untreated mental health or behavioral disorder, they will use maladaptive methods to cope with their pain and overwhelming emotions. When Caitlyn felt depressed, she’d lie in her bed with the lights off, and her blanket over her head. Each time a person deals with a negative emotion maladaptively, it’s a missed opportunity for them to practice adaptive coping tools. The longer a person deals with their emotions using unhealthy coping, the more entrenched their dysfunction becomes, and the harder it is to retrain oneself to cope in a healthier way. Medication can put you in the best frame of mind to learn healthier ways of coping.
Medication can help you utilize talk therapy more effectively. Sometimes a person can be so anxious/depressed/unfocused that they cannot grasp or use the tools and skills being given to them. Medication can get them to a place where they are focused enough to benefit the most from therapy.
Taking prescription medication reduces the likelihood of using illegal drugs. Individuals with a diagnosis of ADHD are 10 times more likely to abuse illegal substances than their non-ADHD counterparts. Additionally, those suffering from mood disorders have an increased vulnerability to drug abuse because they turn to illegal substances to self-medicate their pain and suffering. Taking prescription medication under the care of a trained professional largely reduces this likelihood.
To conclude, medication doesn’t have to be your first course of action. But when you’ve tried other approaches, or talk therapy alone has yielded little or no success, perhaps medication can be part of the solution. There’s no reason to suffer needlessly when there are so many effective options available today. Psychiatry is far from a perfect science and sometimes it takes perseverance to find the medication that is best for you. But so many times clients who made the decision to try medication will say, “Wow, I feel so much better—I just regret that I didn’t try this sooner.”
By Heather Feigin
Heather Feigin, LCSW, is a psychotherapist with a private practice in Passaic, New Jersey. For appointments call 973-348-5279. Got a question for Heather? E-mail [email protected].