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  • Writer's pictureJulie Love

Meds. Medications. Drugs.

From the Archive: April 2017

No aspect of mental health care raises more questions, stress, and resistance. If you have diabetes and are trying different meds, you think "I hope this works." When someone starts a psych med, their first question is usually "How long will I have to take this?" When your antihypertensive keeps your blood pressure in a safe range, you’re glad you found the right one; find a psych med that finally alleviates painful and devastating symptoms, and the common reaction is to think, "Good, now I don't need to take that medicine anymore."

It's part of the stigma. People think there's a sharp line between the “normal” people and the “crazy,” and they'll do anything to stay on the “right” side of that line. And nothing reminds you of where you stand like the daily ritual of swallowing a pill. We need to help everyone realize there is no such line - all aspects of mental health lie on a continuum, everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Good days and bad days. Some people face especially difficult symptoms, but everyone struggles over something. Struggling to manage a hypersensitive emotional response should not be viewed as any more shameful than needing to manage a hypersensitive allergic reaction. Unfortunately, we aren’t there yet.

With any medicine, for any illness, we need to weigh the risks and benefits. With psych meds, we are very aware of this additional layer of risk: how simply taking this medication might affect other people’s opinions about me, and my opinions about myself. Having a mental illness can intrinsically batter one’s self respect; it’s a shame that treating it does so even more.

But we also have to consider a similar benefit, especially for children receiving these medications sooner rather than later. Children and teens are developing their sense of who they are as a person. A young child with untreated ADHD might be learning that he is the bad kid, the one who’s always in trouble, who can’t do the school work, who often annoys his classmates. A teen left in her depression can build into her adult identity all the negative thoughts that the depression fosters: I’m useless, I’m stupid, no one likes me, I’m ugly, I don’t deserve to be happy. A kid whose anxiety continues to grow unfettered risks developing an absolute certainty that they can’t do the things that make them nervous or afraid, and that they never will.

“But will they have to take this med forever?” Maybe. Maybe not. But without it, the aspect of pain they’re in right now might be theirs forever.

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