My Shifting Views on Psychiatric Medication
Psychiatric medication is a tricky topic in the world of mental health for a lot of reasons. These drugs have a dark history of being used for the convenience of doctors rather than the wellbeing of patients, the pharmaceutical industry makes a huge profit off of them, and they come with a lot of very negative mental health stigma.
I first started taking psychiatric medication seven years ago to treat my mood swings, which at the time, my doctors believed to be caused by bipolar disorder, type 2. I was both hesitant to try medication and eager. I knew there would be people in my life who didn’t want me to be on medication for my mood, and who would say things like, « Everyone feels sad sometimes, » not understanding that my daily reality had become nothing but crying, rage, and exhaustion. Some part of me felt weak for not being able to handle my moods on my own, for needing medical intervention for something most people dealt with by themselves. But another part of me knew that most people weren’t dealing with the kind of painful moods I was experiencing, and I was relieved to receive a prescription that might help.
What Psychiatric Medication Treats
After a few months on medication, I wasn’t cured, I’m not even sure I actually felt any better, but I had quickly become a loud activist for psychiatric medication. I saw mental illness as a chemical imbalance, and I saw medication as the logical solution. There is obviously quite a bit of truth to this perspective. Studies show that people with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have trouble producing the right amount of a neurotransmitter called dopamine at appropriate times1, people with depression and anxiety tend to struggle with serotonin production2, and many people with panic disorder experience issues with their norepinephrine levels3.
When I first started taking psychiatric medication, I saw mental illness as a physical illness of the brain that could be treated the same way physical illnesses in other organs are treated: with medication. To a certain extent, this is true, but now that I am starting to explore my trauma and work on healing, I have a slightly different perspective on mental illness, which has changed my ideas about the best treatment practices.
Mental Illness and Psychiatric Medication
Over the last year or so, I have started to realize that not all of my problems can be reduced to chemicals. I got a new therapist and psychiatrist and realized that I don’t actually have bipolar disorder, and that many of my symptoms of mental illness stem from trauma and inadequate coping mechanisms. These are not issues that can be fixed through medication alone.
Currently, I am still taking psychiatric medication to help me cope with my symptoms. I still see medication as an absolutely wonderful thing that can help save lives and improve quality of life. However, I no longer see it as the only, or even the best, treatment for everyone. For me, I think medication is helping me stay more balanced as I explore, acknowledge, and accept my trauma and learn to heal, but I don’t know if it will be a part of my life forever. Trauma healing is a lifelong journey, but once I have made significant progress on my healing, I wonder if my medications will be useful to me anymore. I’m not sure if I have imbalances in my brain in addition to trauma, or if trauma healing work will be more effective at treating my symptoms than psychiatric medication.
Everyone’s Use of Psychiatric Medication Different
Even if I end up discontinuing my psychiatric medication, I would never shame anyone else for taking medication. It’s important to remember that everyone’s mental illness is different, and everyone’s road to recovery is different too. For some, lifelong medication is the best option for wellness, and I absolutely respect that. For others, medication might not be the best treatment option for any number of reasons. For people like me, medication might play different roles throughout the recovery process. All of this is okay. The most important thing is that all of us are receiving treatment that actually helps us, and we are comfortable with that treatment. It’s okay to think critically about controversial topics like psychiatric medication, and it’s okay to share the information you learn; but, at the end of the day, we need to remember that everyone deserves agency over their own healing, and no one has the right to tell someone else how to deal with their mental illness.
How do you feel about psychiatric medication? Have you had doctors, family, or friends try to tell you what’s best for you without understanding your situation? Please share your story with our community in the comments.
- Johnson S. « Is There a Link Between ADHD and Dopamine? » Medical News Today, June 2019.
- Baldwin D. and Rudge S. « The Role of Seratonin in Depression and Anxiety. » International Clinical Psychopharmacology, January 1995.
- Coplan J. and Lydiard R. « Brain Circuits in Panic Disorder. » Biological Psychiatry, December 1998.