Psychiatric Medication Saved My Life

Image credit: CDC via Wikimedia Commons
Image credit: CDC via Wikimedia Commons

I get a little concerned when I become aware of the news of a tragic death being used as a means to increase publicity to a particular movement or way of thinking.  I recognise that many people don’t have a problem with this, and therefore it is important that I state this is my opinion only.  What I say in this post is not fact, and I respect the right of others to have differing opinions.  I know that some of those opinions are based on tragic circumstances and I have no wish to minimise the effect of those circumstances on the people who have and still live them.

If my viewing over the past few days is anything to go by, and I accept that the internet is a large space, it seems to be a growing movement of people against the use of psychiatric medication (and other treatments) to treat mental illness.  I know this is not new.  I’m not saying it’s wrong.  It’s just that there is another side of the story and for some people psychiatric medication is the only life-saving treatment appropriate.

Since Robin Williams’ wife came out and publicly said that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease before his death, there seems to have been a swell in people saying that his death was a result of the medications he was taking for this illness.  The reality is that at this stage no one knows the exact cause of his death.  I don’t believe it is fair on anyone, including above all Robin Williams’ memory, to be making assumptions and statements like this.

I don’t mean to take on the whole Anti-Psychiatry movement with this post, but rather because I have seen so many statements about the dangers of psychiatric medication in the past few days, I simply want to be clear that I have another opinion.

Psychiatric medication saved my life.  I have no doubt of that.  In the nearly 21 years of my mental illness I have been on a vast range of drugs, mostly prescribed by psychiatrists.  I am very aware that most of those drugs were of little or no use to me.  Also many were changed too quickly and therefore didn’t allow time for it to work.  I know they were desperate to find a quick solution.

I experienced a whole heap of side effects, which I could have done without.  One of the side effects I ‘possibly‘ experienced was suicidal ideation.  I say ‘possibly‘ because I have no means of telling whether the severe suicidal thoughts I experienced for around 10 years, from before the medication was started, were caused by the medication I was on, symptoms of my specific illness, or the life situation I was in.

It makes no sense to me (as a lay person) to have psychiatric medication that can cause side affects of suicidal thinking.  What are pharmaceutical companies  thinking?  On that I totally agree with anti-psychiatry, but I also don’t believe anyone could point the finger at any aspect of my life and say that was specifically causing the suicidal behaviour.  They would only be guessing.

Around 12 years ago my psychiatrist at the time made what would be one last change to my medication regime.  I’m purposely not going into details of the actual medications prescribed because I don’t believe that is helpful.  We know that responses to medication are different for everyone.  What has worked for me won’t necessarily work for anyone else.

Since that change I haven’t had any more hospital admissions (and I was stacking up admissions before then) and my suicidal behaviour has largely gone.  Yes, I admit there are still thoughts at times, but I can manage them without hospital admissions or crisis intervention.  I have been able to stop self harming.  I have begun to find hope in living.  These are huge changes for me and they literally saved my life.  I continue to take that medication today and will probably stay on it for my lifetime.  That’s okay with me,and yes, even in spite of what it may be doing to my body.

All that said, I don’t believe that all people who suffer from mental illness need to be on medication.  I read a blog post recently that advised sufferers of Depression to eliminate sugar and alcohol from their diet, get out walking and learn to meditate.  That’s pretty standard and I am sure that for some people, that would go a significant way in curing the problem.  But I know that this instruction wasn’t sufficient for me.  I needed more.  I believe that I needed to change the chemicals going on in my brain, and that prescribed medication was the only way to do that.

With Depression I believe that there are different levels of severity(sometimes it would be good if there were different names for those different levels).   Therefore I accept that medication is not always necessary.  If depression can be cured without medication, I think that is great.  But nothing can sway me from believing that for some people medication is the only answer.  I am sure that I would have been dead today had a psychiatrist not taken the time to find the right medication for me, and had I not committed myself to taking it daily.

I also believe that psychotherapy went a long way to contributing to my improvement, but that it is the right medication that really sealed the deal from changing what I will call a suicidal pit to some chance of living.  The medication made the therapy possible.  Without it I wasn’t well enough to undergo that process.  Of course, you probably didn’t know me 12 years ago, but those who do will attest to the fact that my life has significantly changed.

I am not cured and I expect that with the type of mental illness I have, I will continue to have symptoms, but I know that continuing to take the prescribed medication will go a long way to keeping my illness managed and hopefully keep suicide from being an option.

I totally respect people’s right to determine what is right for them.  This was right for me but I understand that it won’t be right for everyone.  But I also believe it is wrong to write off a particular type of treatment which may not be right for one but can be a lifesaver for another.  From all the range of treatments and options available hopefully there is hope.

“Others imply that they know what it is like to be depressed because they have gone through a divorce, lost a job, or broken up with someone. But these experiences carry with them feelings. Depression, instead, is flat, hollow, and unendurable. It is also tiresome. People cannot abide being around you when you are depressed. They might think that they ought to, and they might even try, but you know and they know that you are tedious beyond belief: you are irritable and paranoid and humorless and lifeless and critical and demanding and no reassurance is ever enough.

You’re frightened, and you’re frightening, and you’re “not at all like yourself but will be soon,” but you know you won’t.”

— Kay Redfield Jamison (An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness)


20 thoughts on “Psychiatric Medication Saved My Life

  1. To me it seems exactly the same as saying everyone with depression MUST be medicated because it has worked for a given percentage. . . When the hell will people learn we are all very different and individual, quite capable of understanding and making informed choices about what the right balance is for ourselves? No treatment is going to be exactly right for any two given people, because we are each so very unique in chemistry, circumstance, etc.

    Well put, Cate.

  2. As one who has tried going off psychiatric medicine with detrimental results, I feel the same way. It has definitely saved me. Made it easier to do the work, psychotherapy. Thank you for putting this out there. For some of us, this is the only so called solution.

  3. I agree with almost all you had to say — medications have saved my life, as well. I have tried being off of them, and the effects were disastrous, each time. I have proven to myself, and to my little world, that I must be on them — for life. I guess what I have a harder time with is accepting that this is just my choice. I know different things work for different people, but a hot spark of anger comes up on me when I see someone post on FB that a handful a cashews a day is equal to the healing properties of a dose of Prozac. I just don’t GET that. Can’t wrap my head around it. I don’t know anyone with clinical depression or bipolar disorder who can manage their medication with their diet, exercise, and meditation. To me, that’s just fooling yourself. But like I said, that’s just my take on it.

    1. Actually I agree with you Rose. The ‘handful of cashews’ line gets me going too, although I accept that for people with maybe a mild dose of depression might find relief in that. Maybe I worded myself wrong, probably trying to please all sides (which I shouldn’t have done). I look at some friends who have been depressed and their experience of the illness is completely different from mine. It was if we were suffering from different illnesses and it makes me mad to call it all depression. I admit that for them the diet, exercise and meditation was enough for them but it sure as hell wasn’t going to do anything for me. I would be dead now if I took that approach.

  4. I take my medications every night often out of fear. I have never tried another avenue nor has one been presented. Cynicism may be a side effect but it is curious to note that there is an entire industry, which is profitable to put it kindly, that informs and influences medical practice itself. Lithium began as a naturally occurring substance which people bathed in. If Prozac grew on trees I have my doubts that it would be prescribed. Coca cola adds life because someone profits from that message. I can’t point to anything better and I owe my reality to medications but in short the payment has been made to physicians and pharmaceutical companies. If there is a hereditary link to mental illness there is also a link to profit. I have my doubts that psychiatrists themselves would ingest half of what they prescribe and the diminished life expectancy of people with mental illness is in no small way a result of the medications themselves. The choice is mine. Do I want to swing from a rope when I’m 50 or die of liver complications when I’m 60. Pfizer would choose the latter. It isn’t empathy it is enterprise. We gain weight, have hand tremors and a dry mouth while the guy who pushes and prescribes it retires in Hawaii. Again cynicism may be a side effect.

    1. Hi Brett, I agree that fear is a big motivator when it comes to medication. My fear is simply that I will otherwise return to 1997, which goes down in history as my “annus horribilis” (to quote the Queen). But then maybe that fear is a good thing in the circumstances, it certainly keeps up the nightly habit of pill swallowing. But then yes, cynicism is also big. I think it’s one of those side effects that the pharmaceutical companies didn’t bargain on when they were adding all the others.

  5. There’s nothing wrong with medication. I know some people who won’t touch chemicals yet take herbal medication, which can carry just as many side-effects! Plus I’m allergic to several herbal medications. It’s only ever a case of wrong prescriptions or doctors too busy/distracted = misdiagnoses.

    Everything has side effects. Play sport – sport injuries. Don’t play sport – potential obesity and other “lack of exercise” health problems. I think the only thing you can do is try to make today comfortable and quit fretting over tomorrow. 😉

    1. Hi Julie, thanks so much for sharing the link to your post with me. What a fantastic description of our hell. I know that love-hate relationship but then I have so many relationships of this type with things, so I just add it to the list and try to focus on the bitterly-grateful one. I don’t like side effects (like most) but I am still grateful I am enduring this experience now rather than 100 years ago.

  6. Vic

    I have been struggling with social anxiety, depression, body dismorphic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, obsssesive compulsive disorder, for the last 15 years. I have tried all kinds of medications and I was in denial for the longest time. Social conditioning has taught us that pharmaceuticals are bad, they’re not natural, not good for your brain, etc. So I’ve always felt this lingering self-defeat for taking medication, thoughts like “why do I have to pharmaceuticals? I’m defected, I was born defected”. But the truth of the matter is I’m on about 7 medications right now and it has eased my misery and I can move forward in life. Without it, I would be suffering from mental agony every single day. I am now beginning to accept myself for taking all these medications for my mental conditions. I have an urge to tell the “normal” people who frown upon pharmaceuticals to “live in a body for one day” and feel my misery, then tell me that medication is bad fo rme. Don’t judge a man until you walk in in shoes. Society has no clue what it’s like to live day in day out with severe mental disorders so they judge us for taking medication. I forgive society for they not know. Sure, of course, I don’t know what the long-term effects of these medications will do to me but I’d rather have a short quality of life than a long life of mental misery. Just my take.

    1. I agree with everything you say, and my reasoning is such that I agree and do same because it enables me to move forward. Where I have been, and no doubt where you have been moving forward is a highly prized thing.

      My apologies for my delay in replying. I have been sick and yes, swallowing yet more pills. 😉

  7. Pingback: How Highly Successful People Deal With Depression - Wisdom Pills

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