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)