I’m not going to lie: I’m swamped in getting ready for my craft show this weekend and have not written a new post. While I hope to be a Speedy Gonzales-esque writer one of these days and write ten posts ahead of schedule, it hasn’t happened yet. Don’t be disappointed, however! Tonight you get to step into the shoes of a MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL. WOOO!!! No university degree required.
mindyourmindpro.ca aims at helping health care professionals help youth. They have a kick-ass blog that I’m sampling from here, a post I wrote in February on educating youth on medication. It was amazing to be able to talk to professionals in an arena where they would be open to my opinions on health care. While the post is aimed at professionals, it has a lot of good advice for people new to antidepressants. I wish I could have read such an article when I first went on medication. Click the “more” arrow below to read the article.
I am currently reading Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, the well-known novel about a futuristically ideal society. In this world the government doles out soma, a drug everyone takes daily without question in order to experience happiness.
“One cubic centimeter cures ten gloomy sentiments!” is one of their mantras supporting the medication. A man nicknamed “Mr. Savage,” after having relocated from the uncivilized world into modern society, refuses to take the pill since it put his mother into a near vegetative state of false bliss. Everyone else is puzzled by his ignorance.
This has me thinking about some of the myths surrounding antidepressants, which are the opposite of soma in Brave New World. Unfortunately, it’s quite common for people unfamiliar with antidepressants to think that they are some sort of “happy pill” that will remove life’s problems from view and leave only a blissfully numb existence. I remember being eighteen and hearing from my boyfriend that I shouldn’t be on antidepressants because they alter reality too much. He thought that the government helped create the pills in order to control society. Fortunately, I ignored his well-meaning advice. I can’t help but wonder, however, how many youth do fall into that mindset, believing that medication is to be avoided for similar reasons.
We all know that it’s part of normal teen development for youth to question authority, which is why I believe that it’s crucially important to explain just how medication works to teens new to the world of psychiatry. Most youth are used to taking orders from adults, so they may seem compliant and agree to take the medication, but their minds may change when they talk to their friends about their new prescription.
One look at Adbusters magazine could change anyone’s mind into thinking that all medication is related to corporate greed. With all the media out there, teens need to have open communication with their doctors so that they can voice their opinions and questions and get the proper answers. It’s very common for appointments with doctors to be quite rushed and we need to slow down and understand that teens especially need time to feel safe in their doctor-patient relationships.
My first psychiatrist was an Indian man about forty years older than I and it took about six months before I could understand what he was saying through his thick accent. Whenever I had a question about my medication he would shove it aside and give me an acronym about life to refer to when I felt confused. Needless to say, I always left his office feeling more confused than ever.
My antidepressants weren’t solving everything like my parents said they would, but my doctor was sure that they were working because I wasn’t impulsively suicidal anymore. It took eight years before I was educated enough to realize that my medication still wasn’t working as well as it could be.
I ended up switching doctors in order to find someone I could talk to at my level about my own life. I can’t believe it took me so long. When I finally did find the right pill I no longer felt like I was drowning in a lake of icy water. My depression shrunk to the size a puddle; unpleasant and uncomfortable but manageable.
If I could go back in time to talk to my younger self, I’d tell her that taking medication doesn’t mean that her problems and her pain matter any less. I’d tell her that antidepressants won’t solve everything but they will make her depression easier to deal with. I’d make sure that she understood that she was the expert on her own life. No one outside of her could tell her whether medication was working or not – only she would know when she felt like her old self again.
I also think I’d tell my younger self that it’s okay to question her doctor and to do research on her medications. I’d tell her that it’s important to be informed but to always talk to her doctor if she was confused. And if her doctor made things more confusing, then it was time to find a new one. If possible I’d find a way to connect her with someone who had had good experiences with antidepressants and could encourage her to hold on through the trial and error of finding the right medication.
I can’t go back in time to talk to the younger me but hopefully as a professional you can benefit from hearing what I wish I’d been told nine years ago. Make sure that your patients understand that meds do not equal brainwashing or ignorance to the injustices of the world. They just make the world easier to deal with by leveling the playing field so that a mind can function in the way it needs to.
Encourage questions and LISTEN to your patients. You can learn as much from them as they can from you.