So the question is why do we have such a hard time taking medications for mental health conditions? I’ve especially noticed this phenomenon amongst minorities. So many of the patients I work with come in for therapy, but some of them have disorders that require medications whether it’s an antidepressant or something for anxiety. A lot of people have a hard time accepting this form of treatment.
To ease their concerns, I begin with an explanation summarizing why the medication would be helpful. Research suggests that the combination of medication plus therapy is the best course of treatment for most emotional disorders, like anxiety and depression. Of course, in some cases therapy alone works well. However, in other cases medication is absolutely required and without it it’s really difficult for the person to get better.
Sometimes medication is the right tool as a short term solution, so that patients can gain a certain amount of clarity. By achieving some clarity, patients can pull together enough focus to use the tools that we provide in therapy and begin dealing with the root of their problem. There are occasions when people want to use medications to cover the symptoms and not deal with the actual problem and that’s another issue all together, but what I see more often than not is folks just don’t want to take those “crazy pills”.
For some, as soon as you say “I think you should take an antidepressant” they interpret that as you saying “I think you are crazy and you need to take these crazy pills for crazy people”. I spend a lot of time convincing people that I don’t think they’re crazy and if I, indeed, thought they were crazy they wouldn’t be sitting in my office but rather be in a hospital wearing a tightly wrapped little white jacket. What really gets me is how quickly we will run to the doctor’s office to get a pill to help us lose weight or maintain an erection, but we won’t get something that will help us with our thinking or with maintaining our emotional stability. We usually say no to this kind of assistance based on our pride. This is very cowardly and selfish.
What many of us don’t think about when we are depressed, or anxious, or going through mood swings is about how it’s affecting the people we love. When we go to our doctors and they say;
“Maybe you’re depressed, Mrs. Jones” or
“I think you have bipolar disorder Mr. Smith”
We become offended because we perceive that as being called crazy and being mentally weak. We don’t want to accept that diagnosis, so we choose to go back home and do nothing to fix our problem. We torture our family and friends with our behavior; we make them suffer through our mood swings with us being any combination of irritable, anxious, frustrated, fatigued or in physical pain, as a result of emotional pain. We choose to do this instead of getting the help we need…because of our pride and the stigma. We fail to take care of ourselves because of a fear based motivation concerned with “what will people think”, which not only harms us as individuals, but also harms our families. We are so consumed with the worry of what others will think that we are willing to sacrifice the folks we say we love. Hmmm, that’s something to think about.
It would be one thing if we simply suffered in silence, but we don’t do that. We usually suffer and suffer very loudly, as we white knuckle it through life. We let everyone around us know about our suffering instead of getting help by taking a medication and getting better. We turn to alcohol to relieve our anxiety and depression and fail to consider that alcohol is a depressant, so it may help us to dull the pain initially, but after a period of time it brings us even lower than where we were when we started drinking.
Some use their religious beliefs as a defense against taking meds. They’ll say something like, “God is going to heal this for me” or “I’m not going to claim depression because my God is a healer” and yes, I agree that my God is a healer, however I don’t necessarily hear them making the same claims when they run to Rite Aid to pick up their Viagra before their big date Saturday night. What?! God can’t heal that?
When patients come to me and they’re ashamed of possibly having to take a medication for depression or anxiety, I usually share with them my own experiences or the experiences of my own family members. Letting them borrow from my experiences usually hits home for most of my patients and I watch their perceptions shift, when they learn that at different points in my own life I’ve taken medication for depression.
A few weeks ago, my mother-in-law reminded me that I shared the story on-air about my son and an accident at home that left him with two skull fractures. I shared that my husband fell down the stairs and dropped him when he was 17 days old. She also reminded me that I did not tell you all that my son is perfectly healthy. He’s a healthy, wonderful, bright, intelligent nine -year-old little boy. I call him my miracle baby, to his absolute delight.
After that accident, I went through a period of having post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Anytime I would hear a noise that sounded like a loud thud, it triggered the memory of the sound of my child’s head hitting the floor. Anytime I heard that noise, I would jump and become fearful. We call this type of reaction a startle response. I became very anxious at the thought of something else potentially happening to my baby. I was overwhelmed with guilt because of what happened and I blamed myself. I developed other symptoms as well.
This went on for weeks and weeks until I finally figured out that I was suffering from PTSD and needed to begin taking an antidepressant. I was very grateful to have the medication. It helped me to become a better mom at a time when I was too wounded and distracted to be able to be available to my baby the way he deserved.
I’m still surprised that my own physicians didn’t catch the symptoms of PTSD that I was displaying. This demonstrates that we have to be our own advocates even when dealing with experts. Since recognizing my own PTSD, I’ve benefitted from being on and off anti-depressants at different points throughout my life. I have a genetic predisposition for depression and a whole host of other mental health illnesses because they run in my family, just like high blood pressure, heart disease, or diabetes. Like all those other health conditions, treatment may be required at different times based on what’s going on with the illness and what’s going on in my life. And just like all of those other health illness, once you’ve had it, the likelihood of it recurring increases.
My point is, we should all be willing to do whatever is necessary to get ourselves healthy, happy and whole. If that means getting therapy, do it. If that means seeking spiritual support, do it. If that means getting treatment for substance abuse, do it. If that means taking medication for anxiety or depression or for mood swings, do it.
Do whatever it is you need to do to take care of yourself to become the person God created you to be and to be available to your family. Doing so can offer you a happy, healthy life.
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