Taking Medication for Mental Illness
I get a lot of questions regarding medication. The irony is that most clients initially don’t realize I can’t prescribe medication. Licensed counselors do not prescribe medication, but we can usually refer our clients to someone who does. Unfortunately, there are lots of misconceptions out there on medication for mental health. As both a therapist and a patient who has taken medication for mental health, I decided to answer some common objections to medication that I hear.
“I’m hesitant to begin medication because I don’t want to underestimate or not trust in God’s power to heal me without it.”
I take solace in the fact that our God is an intelligent designer who orders not only our lives but the universe according to His will. Therefore, it is not a stretch to say that our God is a God of science who is able to lead us to Him through secondary means. In other words, God has allowed us to understand His creation and what can heal it, and is able to work through secondary means such as medicine to bring healing. In my mind, just as my work in therapy with individuals brings healing, which leads me to give glory to God, so too can medication be a source of glory to God.
“What if the medication makes me feel like someone different, like a zombie?”
Medication will most likely change the way you feel. If you are in a state of depression caused by an imbalance in chemical levels, this isn’t a bad thing. Most of the time, doctors prescribe medication initially in small doses to see how you respond. Normally, there are a few types of medications or combinations that may help, so it may take a couple of weeks or months to find the right medication and dosage to help. It is very important to be patient and honest with your primary care doctor or psychiatrist in order to arrive at the correct combination and dosage, instead of just deciding not to take it.
“If I take medication, then I’ll be admitting that I’m crazy and/or weak.”
I often tell clients that for most people medication is not a lifelong endeavor. For some it is, but for many, like therapy, medication is meant to help stabilize you through a difficult season. I use the example of inflatable water wings that children wear in the pool while learning to swim to illustrate this point. Medication helps keep you afloat while you learn the skills. Medication is not a crutch to be utilized indefinitely but an aid to be utilized while you learn the skills you need in therapy, spiritual direction, community or self-help books. There is a stigma with taking medication for mental health reasons, but there shouldn’t be. I don’t look down on those who take cholesterol medication as being weak. If prescription medicine will help heal what is ailing you, then there is no shame in taking it.
“What if I get addicted to the medication?”
Doctors are aware of the side effects of medication, one of them being possible addiction. Therefore they usually take this into consideration when prescribing the correct dosage. One way to help address this fear is by utilizing other resources (such as therapy) in conjunction with medication, so that you are not solely relying on the prescribed medicine to improve your mood and functioning. I also recommend to clients to try a variety of alternative methods of treating depression, anxiety and mood disorders such as meditation, mindfulness, vitamins and supplements, breathing exercises, music, exercise, self-help books, speaking to your doctors about the hormones or thyroid issues contributing to mood swings, etc. This helps ensure that the problem is one of chemical imbalance that needs to be treated using medication.
“My child may need medication, but I am worried it might impact their brain development.”
Pediatricians are well-versed in child development and research regarding how medications they prescribe impact children. The hope and philosophy with prescribing medication to children is that the medication can help your child’s mind function normally without stunting it’s development. Another way to say this is that instead of impeding functioning, medication will help put things in place biologically to ensure that their brain functions and does in fact develop appropriately. Again, hopefully medication is a short-term solution for children that will help them as they process trauma and build skills in therapy.
One of the most important pieces of advice I give to clients regarding medication is do your research, ask questions, and be honest about how it is impacting you. If you feel you may need medication for your mental health needs please follow-up with your doctor and discuss next steps to explore this option.
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