In Defense of Medication

'Medication' by Antti Lehtinen via Flickr 

In one of my earliest posts, I spoke about how I was first encouraged to speak to a GP about my mental health concerns. After two personally frustrating meetings with the same doctor I was prescribed medication for my anxiety. It was a medication called Propranolol, a beta blocker type more commonly used to treat heart arrhythmias but also useful for anxiety and stage fright because it mediates the fight-or-flight response. A medication that, after some research, I refused to take.

This isn't to say that the drug itself is bad in any way; in fact a more accurate thing to say would be that I did the research to prove to myself that the drug wasn't bad. I already had bad feelings about the prescription because my meetings with my GP were rushed and not particularly thorough. There was no real question as to the severity of my anxiety, more questions about what about my lifestyle was encouraging it which...hey, I'm not a doctor, but surely not everything can be linked back to my being overweight?

I digress.

So I wasn't sure I had been prescribed accurately, plus I have friends around me that had dealt with negative side-effects to medication for their mental health problems (worsened symptoms, breakdowns, misdiagnoses, etc.) so I was already frightened by them. My self-deprecating mind, reinforced by cultural expectations of me which I'll delve into another time, made me think that all I had to do was think hard enough and I could cure myself. I made myself feel like taking medication was akin to giving up and admitting I didn't have any control over my thoughts (spoiler: I didn't.) So I went to the internet looking for descriptions of what the drug is and how it works, as well as personal accounts from people who have used it.

Results were overwhelmingly either positive or neutral, with very few people complaining of side-effects. I found out it was dangerous to operate heavy machinery whilst on Propranolol, which would have made work slightly difficult at the time, but other than that it was either people describing how it had changed their lives for the better or that it was a pretty simple, low-risk anti-anxiety medication.

Found un-credited. Please let me know the source of this image

I should say: using the internet as a doctor by no means the best course of action, and you should always speak to a professional when medicine is concerned, but please understand that I had no desire to go back to my GP after feeling like I had been assessed carelessly. I didn't act in the smartest way, but it's what I did.

The results of my searching made me feel like the doctor had, at least, given me something seemingly low-risk. There didn't seem to be any danger of my symptoms worsening whilst on these pills, and the dosage I was given was less than most of the people whose personal accounts I had read.

Still, however, I refused to take the medication because I knew there were other options. I wanted to try talking therapies, work with IAPT or with Mind, and use the medicine as a last resort option. Whether I regret that or not I can't say because I don't know whether it would have benefited me more than CBT or Mindfulness have.

I will say that when people ask me whether they should consider medication for anxiety, depression, OCD, PTSD, psychosis, or any other mental health disorder that can be treated or have the effects mitigated by medication my response is always something along the lines of:

 "Talk to your GP, talk to a psychiatrist, get a second professional opinion if something doesn't seem right, and decide that way. My experience is not yours."

I could have operated in a smarter way, but at least I went from my GP and my own research to an NHS organisation (IAPT) who evaluated me and decided what treatment would be best for me. Relying purely on 'my friend said' or 'the internet said' or even 'my parents said' can end up doing much more harm than good because people have biases and misconceptions and all kinds of space for error to occur.

Not only that, but if you yourself have had a negative experience with medication or a specific medical professional/organisation it is of course a fantastic thing to spread awareness of potential dangers. However, it doesn't make you an expert on the thoughts and feelings of others. Don't warn people off something that might safe their lives because it didn't work for you or someone close to you. Let them know the risks, absolutely, but always encourage people to seek professional advice.

I was surprised by how many people had benefitted from propranolol, even had their lives changed for the better, because I had a stigma against anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication based on other people's experiences. What If I had really needed it though? What if I had spurned life-saving medication because of preconceived ideas? Perish the thought.

I feel like, because I talk exclusively about ways to combat mental health issues without addressing medication, it would be a good idea to make my stance clear. A single mental illness can affect different people in a variety of ways, so of course treatment depends on the person and how the illness affects them. Some people requite a mixture of treatments in order to get the results they seek. So if meditation helps you a little bit, medication might take you the whole way, or if medication helps you in one way then something like talking therapy might help you in another. Maybe all three or more work for you, maybe none. The key is to listen to your personal needs, and not to feel like you're wrong or broken on not working hard enough if my advice, or anyone else's, just does not work for you.

Credit: runningmandz and icantdrawbutdontcare via Tumblr

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