On medication and mental illness

I spoke with one of my close friends recently, and given her background in biology and chemistry, I was surprised to find out she didn’t know what was actually involved with treating someone with medication for mental illness.

So for those that don’t know, here’s my attempt at explaining it.

You go into the doctor. You tell them what’s going on. With any luck, they believe you. They prescribe some medicine. You try said medicine. Maybe it works. Maybe it makes things worse, makes you suicidal, or more anxious, or randomly anxious. Maybe it makes you experience wild mood swings, or a laundry list of other side effects (clenching your teeth, sweating, loss/gain appetite, erratic sleep patterns, etc, etc) Even if it does, you need to stay on it for at least 6 weeks before the doctor will willingly prescribe something else. Because the symptoms may subside. Or they may get worse. And if they don’t subside, or if the meds do nothing, you get to try all over again.

On that alone, it’s no surprise that people with mental illnesses don’t want to take medication to treat their illness. When you add in the stigma that some people apply to doing so, the reluctance is more than understandable.

One of the big problems is that starting (or even stopping) medication can be like dropping a grenade on some of your friendships/relationships, if they can’t handle what happens. That’s even worse if the person taking medication is too ashamed to a) tell their friends they’re taking meds and/or b) tell ppl what to expect.

While it’s easy to say that if your symptoms manifest badly and you might damage friendships, to just avoid contact with those people or anyone while you work through things, you need your friends to be around you to help work through things, and you need them to support you.

So if you’re someone dealing with anxiety, depression, or any other mental illness, don’t be afraid to talk to your friends. Don’t be afraid to seek help, to try medication, it can do wonders. Tell your friends and loved ones what to expect. It will be a trial to be sure, but when you come out of it, it will be worth while. Remember that even though your emotions may be hard to control, you are still accountable for your actions. Your mental illness is not an excuse.

If you’re a friend of someone with a mental illness — be kind. Listen to them, and don’t shy away from the conversation even if it’s something you have no experience with. They are telling you because they trust you and need you. Understand that they are battling themselves on several fronts first, and it might spill out. Try to understand that if their negative emotions get pointed at you, it’s not personal, as hard as that may be to believe. This doesn’t excuse them from their behaviour, they still need to answer for that, but with the understanding that they might have little control over it.

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