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It’s Okay to Take Medication for Your Mental Health

By Pam Dewey • mental health, mental illness, mental health medication, mental health prescription, mental health support, mental health care, mental health stigma, destigmatize mental illness, destigmatize medication, mental health medication, self care, mental health therapy, therapy, depression, anxiety, depression treatment, anxiety treatment, medication for depression, medication for anxiety • May 25, 2023

Mental illness is often stigmatized. Depressed people should try harder to be happy. Anxious people should relax. People with PTSD need to get over their trauma and move on. But anyone with a mental health condition knows that’s not how it works.

You can’t smile depression away. Anxiety isn’t cured with a bubble bath. And PSTD can’t be put out of sight and mind. However, even if you recognize that a smile won’t cure depression, you may hesitate to try an antidepressant or other medication. Maybe your friend tried a medication, had terrible nightmares or felt blah. Perhaps, you’re concerned that prescriptions may have long-term side effects.

Like mental illness itself, medication is also stigmatized. People may feel weak for relying on a prescription to manage their mental health, but if it helps, what is the issue? And the truth is that prescription medication can help many people with mental health issues. Here’s why you may want to consider taking medication to treat your mental illness. 

Mental illness has several causes

You’ve probably heard that depression and anxiety are caused by chemical imbalances in the brain. While that is true to a certain degree, the answer is more complex than that. According to Harvard Medical School, “Research suggests that depression doesn't spring from simply having too much or too little of certain brain chemicals. Rather, there are many possible causes of depression, including faulty mood regulation by the brain, genetic vulnerability, and stressful life events. It's believed that several of these forces interact to bring on depression… many chemicals are involved, working both inside and outside nerve cells. There are millions, even billions, of chemical reactions that make up the dynamic system that is responsible for your mood, perceptions and how you experience life. With this level of complexity, you can see how two people might have similar symptoms of depression, but the problem on the inside, and therefore what treatments will work best, may be entirely different.”

Since mental health problems can have several causes, there isn’t a magic answer for treatment. As mentioned, even two people who have similar types of depression may need different treatments because their brains are wired differently; they have different genetic dispositions and, certainly, they have different life experiences. That means medication might work for one person and not for the other. Or, that medication needs to be paired with something else.

Medication is often paired with therapy

Most psychiatrists and psychologists will recommend medication combined with therapy. Therapy is important for helping identify symptoms and triggers, processing your feelings and learning to cope. In some cases, medication can provide a faster effect on your mental health. According to Mental Health of America, “Getting the full benefit of therapy can take a while. You might feel better after your first session, but it can take a long time to really dig deep into what’s going on. In the meantime, medications can help you find more immediate relief. Most of them don’t work instantly… but if you find one that works for you, you’ll probably feel the benefits within a few weeks.” While therapy is good for your long-term mental health, sometimes taking medication can treat the symptoms you’re experiencing now.

Only consistent use of medication works

You’ve likely heard stories of people with depression or anxiety who started taking medication and felt so good they decided to stop taking it. This isn’t how medication works; it doesn’t cure your mental illness. Stopping your medication can be dangerous to your mental health. Mental Health of America states, “Medications only treat symptoms, so if you stop taking them, your symptoms can return.” When you start taking a prescription, ask your healthcare provider how long you’ll be on it, so you know what to expect. Before you stop taking a mental health prescription, consult your doctor or therapist. They can advise you whether it’s a good idea and how to do it safely.

It’s perfectly okay to explore other treatment options

In addition to therapy, there are other treatments for mental health issues. People find consistent exercise improves mental health. Exercise does release feel-good body chemicals like endorphins and dopamine. Some find relief from spending regular time in nature, meditating, journaling or making art.

Others might find herbal supplements, like fish oil or valerian root, help with mental health symptoms. But you’ll want to exercise caution with supplements. Mental Health of America states, “Not everything that’s ‘natural’ is safe or good for you. Some plants can make you feel better, but others can make you sick. Herbal supplements aren’t bad — they just have their own pros and cons, just like medications do. If you’re going to take herbal supplements, you should treat them just like you would medications: do your research, watch out for side-effects and talk to your doctor to make sure what you’re taking is safe.”

Also realize that alternatives don’t work for everyone. On the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) blog, writer Nyemade Boiwu states,I can't tell you how much better my life has been on medication. I’m all for trying other therapeutic methods before medication. However, just like any other health-related concern, sometimes medication is necessary to resolve the problem. Some people with depression may find success by working with a therapist to develop coping mechanisms. Others, including me, may find that therapy without medication is not enough. Especially when my symptoms are triggered by nothing at all.”

People with mental health issues should explore various solutions until they find what works for them. If you decide to try medication, know that it may take some trial and error to find the right prescription for you. Like figuring out what outfit looks best on you, not every drug will be the right fit.

It’s important to talk to your therapist, doctor or other healthcare provider about what you’re experiencing and use their expertise to help you decide. If your medication isn’t working or makes you feel worse, reach out immediately and discuss next steps. And remember, there is nothing wrong with taking medicine to make you feel better; you do it when you have a cold. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health.