September 18, 2023

Should I Take Meds for My Mental Health?

Navigating the world of mental health can often feel like wandering through a maze. For many, the idea of seeking help from a therapist or psychologist is daunting enough, and then there’s the added layer of whether to consider medication as part of that help. If you’re reading this, you’re likely grappling with that very question.

Mental health is as intricate as physical health, if not more, and the connection between body and mind is an important one to foster. Most folks wouldn’t hesitate to take medication for chronic physical ailments—in many cases, our mental health should be approached with the same consideration.

When Should I Consider Medication?

Of course, the decision to start medication isn’t one to be taken lightly. Let’s explore some signs that may indicate it’s time to think about this option. We’ll also talk about some of the very valid concerns regarding side effects.

1. Persistent and/or Debilitating Symptoms

Everyone has “off” days or even weeks. However, if you’ve been struggling with symptoms like extreme sadness, suicidal thoughts, persistent anxiety or irritability, paranoia, mania, hallucinations, obsessions or compulsions, or intrusive thoughts that are affecting your daily life, it might be time to discuss medication options with a professional. 

2. Lack of Improvement with Other Therapies

Therapy, lifestyle changes, and coping mechanisms are incredible tools in managing mental health. Some people find that with consistency and patience, these tools are effective enough at reducing or eliminating difficult mental health symptoms. However, if you’ve given these methods a fair shot and aren’t seeing the progress you’d like, medication might offer the additional support you need. Think of it as another tool in your mental wellbeing toolbox.

3. Recommendation from a Trusted Healthcare Professional

If a psychiatrist, psychologist, or primary care provider who knows you well suggests considering medication, it’s worth a genuine conversation. They can provide a balanced view of the pros and cons of medication, based on their knowledge and experience with similar cases, as well as their observations and considerations of your specific circumstances. You can ask them questions about why they’re recommending medication, and can explore which options might work best for you based on your physical and mental health history.

Side Effects: The Medication Elephant in the Room

It’s perfectly valid to have concerns about side effects. Medication, after all, affects everyone differently. Let’s break this down:

  • Not Everyone Experiences Side Effects: First, remember that not everyone will experience side effects. Just as some people can drink coffee before bed and sleep like a baby, others might find it disrupts their sleep. Medication reactions are individual and will be unique to you. 
  • Most Side Effects are Temporary: For many who do experience side effects, they’re often temporary, and generally decrease or go away entirely once your body has adjusted to the meds. If side effects persist or are troubling to you, that’s a good sign it’s time to communicate with your healthcare provider about getting your prescription reevaluated or potentially even changed. 
  • Balancing Pros and Cons: Think of mental health medication as you would any other medication. For instance, if you had a severe headache, you might take a pain reliever knowing it might upset your stomach. It’s a balance of potential benefits and potential risks. And sometimes, the relief that medication can offer from debilitating symptoms of a mental health condition can outweigh potential side effects.

Other Things to Consider

While it’s essential to gather information and seek advice from professionals, the final decision to start medication is a deeply personal one. Here are a few steps to guide your thought process:

  1. Get Informed: Understand the benefits and potential side effects of the recommended medication. Ask questions. What is the typical experience? What side effects should prompt an immediate call? Are there long-term effects to consider?
  2. Open Communication: Share your concerns about side effects with your provider. They can often adjust dosages, recommend another medication, or provide strategies to manage potential side effects.
  3. Start Slow: If you decide to go forward, remember that many mental health medications can be started at a low dose. This “start low and go slow” approach can help minimize side effects and allow you to gauge how you feel on the medication.

Check-in with Yourself: As with any new change, regularly assess how you’re feeling. Are your symptoms improving? Are side effects manageable or diminishing? This self-awareness will guide further discussions with your healthcare provider.

The Decision is Yours

Choosing to consider medication for mental health is an intimate decision. It’s okay to have reservations and concerns. It’s also okay to prioritize your well-being and explore all available avenues to find relief. Remember, you’re not alone in this journey; lean on trusted professionals and loved ones to guide and support you. Whatever you decide, prioritizing your mental health is an admirable step toward a brighter, more balanced future.

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