Yesterday, Lydia of On The Borderline wrote an interesting piece on the stigma surrounding psychiatric medications and opioids for chronic pain. Today, I am going to add my own two cents to the conversation on meds.
Like Lydia says, many people, including patients, fear that psychiatric medications will change the person taking them, turning them into a zombie. I must say there is some truth to this. However, it’s hard to tell whether the medication is at fault or it’s the person’s illness. For example, as regular readers know, I spent a long time in a psychiatric hospital, including on a long-term care unit. Most people there have severee, treatment-resistant schizophrenia spectrum disorders. Most people who fall into this category were indeed heavily sedated and could be seen as “zombies”. However, the term “zombie” is a rather derogatory term for any human being, mentally ill or not.
When I started medication in 2007, I was indeed afraid of the antipsychotic I got prescribed turning me into a “zombie”. I was on a low dose of an atypical antipsychotic (which seem less sedative than classic antipsychotics) and it didn’t sedate me that much. It did keep me somewhat calmer than I was without medication, though I still felt pretty much as miserable.
This brings me to another issue that I touched upon in my comment on Lydia’s post: medications aren’t there for behavioral management. Okay, that may not be entirely true, in that severely aggressive people may benefit from medication for behavioral management if nothing else works. However, it’s a last resort and care must be taken to assess whether the patient actually feels better or they’re just too drugged up to make their feelings known. In this sense I, being a former long-term psychiatric hospital patient given medication for behavior control, have a different perspective to Lydia. She, after all, seemed to assume in her post that it’s stigma that keeps people from taking medications that could make them feel better.
Not that this didn’t happen in my own case, but in a different respect. I was taught in my years in inpatient psychiatric treatment, that medication is pure behavior control and how I felt didn’t matter. This not only got me to take medications I feel I didn’t need, but it also kept me from getting medications I did need. This is the case with my antidepressant. I was finally diagnosed with recurrent, moderate major depression in 2017 when I sought a second opinion on my diagnosis. I’ve probably been suffering depression off and on since at least age ten, but it was masked by my challenging behavior. Because I with good reason didn’t expect anyone to care about my mood if it wans’t bothering the staff, I was never treated for depression while in the hospital. Finally, earlier this year, I got a psychiatrist’s appointment to discuss my mood and was prescribed a higher dose of my antidepressant. (I had already been put on an antidepressant several years earlier, but don’t ask me why.) It seems to be working now.