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Taking medication for
your mental health
Learn more about why medication is, sometimes, an important part of your recovery process and
how to talk to your doctor about finding the right medication to fit your needs!
What is Stigma?A socially constructed phenomenon that gives a negative view to those who display a specific attribute which is perceived to be inferior or different. Stigma can also be internalized: an individual accepts that negative stereotypes apply to themselves and feel estranged from their society. People who suffer from mental illness are among the most stigmatized in our society. Medication stigma results in fewer people seeking the care they need and deserve for fear of judgment, shame, or alienation. This avoidance of care is dangerous as it can result in longer recovery periods or complications.
Origins of StigmaUntil recently, very few treatment options existed except for inpatient care. Those receiving this care were seen as different. Many insurance policies also did not provide any mental health services, so their treatment was not universally viewed as important. Many criminal behaviors are also attributed to mental illness, which created a culture of fear, and a view of mental illness as dangerous. In reality, only 3-5% of acts of violence can be attributed to mental illness. Many do not understand how to have a conversation about mental health. This makes mental illness seem far less common than it truly is, and also doesn’t promote the seeking of care. Having a poor understanding of mental illness can lead to embarrassment or denial. There is also a historically fueled and racially-related distrust of mental health professionals, from a history of unequal care and very few colored psychologists. In order to get rid of the mental health stigma, there must first be open conversations.
Medication Non-AdherenceNon Adherence is when a person does not take their medications as prescribed, which limits or eliminates the progress they should see. 50% of patients with chronic health conditions are estimated to be non adherent to their medications, which can result in $100-300 billion in annual medical costs, and 125,000 deaths in the U.S. In a review of medication adherence, it was found that perceived lack of control, risk of medication dependence, and associated stigma all were of great influence.
Common MisconceptionsMisconceptions about medication and mental health greatly contributes to stigma. "Medications are just for those who are too mentally or emotionally weak to take on their problems, and it is just used as a crutch" "You have to surpass a certain threshold in order to be prescribed medication, meaning the problem must be very serious" Many changes are assumed to occur, including personality changes, dulled senses, or becoming zombie-like "Medication only masks a problem and doesn’t solve anything long-term" All of these ideas circulate throughout society and engrave into our memories, but they are all stereotypes that have been portrayed in the media. The experience for everyone is different and also depends on the mental illness being treated and what treatments are being used. Biological factors, life experiences, and family history all play a role in an individuals’ mental health.
How Medications Vary by PersonEveryone responds differently to their medications. Some medications may be short-term, others may be lifelong. Taking a recommended medication may be scary, but many find it helps them feel more in control of their lives. When prescribing, many personal factors must be taken into account in order to find the proper fit for the individual. These may include: Age Symptoms Sex Allergies Other medications Other health conditions/ health history Family history Cost/insurance Pregnancy status Ethnicity Some medications take weeks or months before noticeable changes start happening, and side effects normally resolve within a few weeks. There are also different ways of administering medications, such as pills, liquids, injections, or patches. It may take a few tries to find the right medication for you, but it is often worth your time. Pharmacogenetics is a recent field that analyzes your DNA (though a cheek swab) in order to provide information about how you will respond to different medications. Although this test is not covered by all insurance providers, it could be a useful tool in determining the right medication for you. For some, medications are not the right fit altogether, or they also need another treatment course. This may include psychotherapy, peer/group programs, or rehabilitative services.
How To Discuss Medication With Your DoctorMental health is a very important part of your overall health that must be addressed to live your life to the fullest. First, you should discuss any concerns with your primary care provider, and they may refer you to a mental health professional. Here are some tips for when preparing to talk to your doctor: Make a list of any questions you have or personal/privacy concerns, including religious or cultural beliefs that may affect treatment Make a list of any medications you are currently taking Review your family history; this can help determine risks Bring a friend or family member if you feel uncomfortable; they can provide support, take notes or offer input Be honest, open, and specific. Discuss all recent changes in your life, stressors, or behaviors. This will help build a trusting relationship with your doctor. If you still feel uncomfortable, do not be afraid to switch providers. Discuss all possible courses of action before settling on a treatment option. This includes discussion about costs, risks, expected outcomes, and timeline. Also discuss your goal with treatment and what side effects you are willing to endure to relieve symptoms. If you begin taking medication, keep a chart of when you take it and how you are feeling over time, so you can share it with your doctor and see your progress. You can also take notes on the chart of questions that arise so you can remember. Carry a list of your medications in your wallet in case of an emergency. If you choose to quit your medication, talk to your doctor first, as they should generally be stopped gradually. You can also choose to talk to a community mental health service, a mental health care professional, a counselor, or a psychiatrist.
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