I recently watched a fairly surface-level documentary1, Prescription Thugs on the state of Big Pharma in American life—a subject I am interested in on many levels, not just from my own experiences with psychiatric medication. It went into the filmmakers’ personal struggles with pain medication, and how over-prescribed opioids are. For that specific class of drug, I am in complete agreement.
From my own personal experience—I’ve been prescribed addictive pain medication for every small amount of pain I’ve ever had. Even pain I knew was temporary2. I never took any of this medication, as I am prone to being addicted to things. I have OCD, it is one of the many parts of my mindset.
What really offended me in this film was the notion that psychiatric medication is just as often over-prescribed. SSRI’s in particular, but the film painted a pretty broad brush for this entire class of medication.
This article is not here to merely critique this film, but to take that attitude that was thrown out there and explore it—as it is something people do believe on a few different levels. To note: I fully believe that there are people who do not need psychiatric medication, and are put on said medication to essentially shut them up. That is often why medication is prescribed—I know that!
Psychiatric medication is critical for people like me with mental health issues, and It is by far not an easy journey finding the right mix of medication for one’s individual self. No one seems to have an issue with cancer medication and treatment, and with that I will tell you that mental illness is like cancer that you’re probably not going to die from. That is a fair analogy and meant in no offense to cancer patients or those with mental illnesses.
What I find is that most people have had some sort of first—or second-hand experience with standard medication for things like depression and anxiety. Problem is there are so many different types of medication (all classified pretty much the same) that the psychiatric community doesn’t event know exactly how they work. There is nothing wrong with this conundrum—it is not as if doctors aren’t trying to figure it out. It is just the brain is currently far too complex for us to understand… OTHER THAN, certain medications sometimes—but not always-change the brain for those with mental illness. Some work well, some have paradoxical effects (as in, the patient feels worse—the precise opposite of what the medication is supposed to do.)
This is not wrong! This is the state of the psychiatric medication universe. It is all we have. For people to downplay it as unnecessary is offensive. Even worse is to consider psychiatric medication as an affront to less chemical therapies. My wording is important here—considering it an affront is offensive. Less chemical therapies are perfectly valid, and often help some people.
I can attest very specifically to one medication—Fluvoxamine. For me it works absolute wonders for my OCD. There is a sense of myself I now have after being put on this medication that I cannot describe other than to ask you to imagine a fog of anxiety and OCD turned up to nine out of ten, and having that pushed down to mostly four out of ten. Of course I have occasional spikes back up—but nowhere near nine! It works. The end. And it is not a narcotic or anything that one could get high from—so there’s not that. (And that is a thing with medication in the realm of anxiety—people do get high from Benzodiazepines—Xanax, Klonopin and the like. But this is not that case.
There is a stigma with—I would go as far as saying—all of the mental illness universe. Having the illnesses, acting out because of symptoms of the illnesses, and indeed the medication for the illnesses. Well, that’s pretty fouled up, no? That which helps the understandably—but not excusably—stigmatized being… stigmatized? But go and tell your employer you need to take a second to take your pills for bipolar disorder and see the reaction you’ll eventually get. Yeah, stigma.
While I agree we indeed have an issue with doctors and patients in concert looking to pills for a quick answer—that does not mean that pills in total are an issue. Not at all. I imagine a lot of this comes from the fact that psychiatric medication is known to all as something thrown up against the wall to see what sticks. That is how one finds their correct medication or mix of medication. It is how I did it—I’ve been through around twenty different medications to get where I am.
I can understand how someone would look at that journey as quackery. However doesn’t the fact that I know some things did nothing for me, know some things had the opposite effect, and finally found some things to work prove that it isn’t all psychosomatic—it isn’t all the realm of sugar pills?
And even further comes the notion that medication for the mind damages the brain and makes people worse off. Like opioids abused after taking them for real pain. Of course this happens! In situations where doctors are lazy and patients are not their own advocates. But by no means do we have a psychiatric medication over-usage problem in this country. To think so stigmatizes those who benefit from the medications.
Oh, it can be dangerous territory. Some medications have side effects like suicidal ideation. Some. And most often in these cases it is just a paradoxical amplification of an ideation that was already there. And those responsible should stop the usage of said medication immediately.
Yeah, it is a messy and disorganized world psychiatric medication. But I’d love to introduce you to my world without medication. It’s quite hellish.
2 Don’t jump off the top level of balcony seating, no matter how funny you think it may be. Just some advice from me. But if you do, and you screw up your foot—the pain will go away on its own in a week or two. Just sayin’. [BACK]