Let me start by saying that I am definitely an advocate for medication when it comes to mental health. I was on medication for depression for about 3 years. While I did have some problems with it, I would definitely suggest it is one of the reasons I am no longer in the bout of depression that clouded all of my adult life up until about 8 months ago.
I don’t think that the medication ‘cured’ me of my depression at all, but I do think that it gave me some much needed stability in a time that I had no control over my emotions whatsoever. The stability gave me a chance to get back on my feet, be a productive member of society and the capacity to really work out what was happening to me. Once I had the stability I was able to chip away at my depression until I got to the point that I am now – not having to worry about that shitty little disease.
Having said that, medication for mental health has a terrible reputation.
A combination of some nasty side effects and some less than willing doctors makes the prospect of simply finding out whether you should be on medication hard enough, let alone taking action and committing to a course of medication. On top of this, there is the fear of what happens to you if it DOES work. Will you be on medication for the rest of your life? Are you being weak? Are you giving up? Will it make me a different person? Will I lose the good times as well as the bad times?
These are all fears that I had when it was first suggested I go on medication. When I was first diagnosed with depression in my second year of university. The thought I kept tripping up on was ‘am I giving up?’
I felt like if I stared taking medication, then that was me: depressed. I would have given up on fighting it and would be resigning myself to just being a depressed guy.
To give you all some context here, I was spending 90% of my time in bed and the stress of trying and failing to get up to go to lectures or to socialise with my housemates was giving me constant nosebleeds. We’re talking 6-7 big ones a day. I was not in a good place but still my mindset towards medication was that I wanted to suffer it out and fight rather than getting help.
I guess that was my key misconception- that I would be giving up.
The thing is though, you never stop fighting.
With all the help in the world you’re still in for the fight of your life. In the end my choice to start medication was more like deciding to start fighting with a machinegun instead of the foam sword that I had been using up until that point.
I eventually took the step and started medication, but didn’t really do any research on it at the time. Ever wary of the ‘google told me everything’ approach that doctor’s just love, I just went with what was prescribed to me and that was that. My research on different kinds of medication and different peoples experiences on it didn’t properly start until I was pretty much finished with my course of medication. By the time I realised that what was happening to me wasn’t normal, it was 3 years too late.
That is where my problem with medication lies.
The main thing I got out of my research is just how many people continue to struggle with the side effects of their medication. I just googled the drug I took, Sertraline, and here is the list of known side effects that came back on the first result:
That is a huge list of things that could potentially happen, and from what I learned by asking around is that, more often than not, people are living with these side effects for so many different reasons:
We don’t realise what is happening is a side effect,
We choose living with side effects over living with their mental health condition,
We don’t realise there is another option,
We are dismissed by their doctors- the list went on and on!
I was the same when I was on my medication. I was already depressed so I took the shitstorm that was happening to my body in stride. The symptoms were placed in the ‘bad things that are happening to me column’ and I got on with my life. Even being one of the lucky ones who had a doctor who was very involved and determined to improve my situation I only brought it up my side effects once. It was very early in the treatment and the problems weren’t too severe so I was told to just wait it out a bit, and that they would probably pass.
Unfortunately the nature of depression, that was taken as ‘don’t bother bringing it up again’ and so when the problems changed and got worse, I didn’t bother bringing it up again. I have no doubt that if I had brought my concerns to him then something would have been done.
Some people I heard from weren’t so lucky and found that they were dismissed by their doctors. That their side effects were seen as a small price to pay for their mental health and so they were forced to live with them. Just look at the two most common serious side effects for Sertraline:
Decreased sexual desire or ability and failure to discharge semen (in men).
This is the collision of two taboo subjects: Mental health and sexual performance. Now imagine getting over that huge hurdle and mustering up the courage to talk to somebody about it only to be brushed off and told that your sex life is a small price to pay for your treatment.
People can be on medication for their whole lives so essentially what they are being told is that they have to choose between being a functional member of society or enjoying sex again.
It’s a ‘would you rather’ game come to life. Would you rather fight a duck the size of a horse or a hundred horses the size of ducks? (pick the tiny horses, idiot) but this is real life, and it’s happening to So. Many. People.
I assume that this is why it is so common for people just to give up on medicating themselves and go their own way. It’s understandable. But it’s also important to remember that there is always an alternative.
Mental health problems affect everybody differently, and so there are multiple treatment options that could work for you.
Medication can be changed.
Doctors can be changed.
Please don’t sacrifice either your health or your happiness for the sake of the other. You don’t need to keep going on the same way if it is affecting your quality of life. More medication can be given to counter the side effects. Drugs can be changed for another drug that will have the same effect on your health but without the side effects.
There is no road map for you or for your doctors, so work on keeping open lines of communication and working together to find a solution that ACTUALLY works for you. Unfortunately for most people it takes a bit of experimentation, but surely that’s no price compared to the alternative?
If you take just one thing away from all of this, I want you to remember that you are not alone in struggling with the shitty side effects of your treatment, but you don’t have to put up with it. Treat your wellbeing with the importance that it deserves and make a change.
… and that you are a moron if you would even consider fighting a duck the size of a horse