Psychopharmacology

Is Psychiatric Medication Right for You?

5 tips before making the decision.

Posted Nov 18, 2020

We are all living through challenging and unprecedented times, and rates of depression and anxiety are at an all-time high. Fortunately, in the era of telehealth, access to care from the safety of one's home has improved.

The subject of psychiatric medication is an inevitably fraught one. For some, taking medication is the obvious solution to mental health woes. For others, taking medication is a form of defeat—an admission that other strategies aren’t working. If you struggle with anxiety, ADHD, depression, or other symptoms, taking medication might make this challenging time more tolerable. Here are five tips for getting the most out of your medication.

Consult a Psychiatrist. Most people seeking antidepressants don’t go to psychiatrists; they consult their family physician. There’s nothing wrong with talking to a doctor you trust, but psychiatrists are experts in mental health. If you think you might need medication, ask your family doctor for a referral. Psychiatrists know about the newest and most effective drugs, are well-educated in the role of lifestyle remedies, and are better equipped to manage side effects. Your psychiatrist may also offer you a different or more complete diagnosis from what you received from your primary care physician.

Be Honest About Your Medical History. Something about discussing medical history turns many people into an anxious mess. There’s a lot of shame surrounding illness, particularly substance abuse and mental health issues. What’s more, many people feel embarrassed that they’re not leading lifestyles as healthy as they would like. But lying to your doctor about your medical history can undermine the effectiveness of your medication. Some drugs work better for people with specific health histories of lifestyles. And for some people, various risk factors make other drugs a bad idea. For example, stimulant drugs can be a dangerous choice for people with a history of high blood pressure or cardiovascular health issues.

Tell your doctor about:

  • Any and all medical conditions with which you’ve been diagnosed.
  • Whether you use any drugs, including caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs.
  • What other medications you take.
  • Whether you have any major lifestyle risk factors, such as obesity or a very unhealthy diet.

Talk Openly About Side Effects. Side effects are an uncomfortable topic for many people taking psychiatric drugs. You might desperately want the drug to work, only to encounter side effects that rob you of hope. Or maybe you feel uncomfortable talking about side effects like drooling, erectile dysfunction, or changes in your libido.

Psychiatrists specialize in managing side effects. Your doctor can’t, however, manage side effects if he or she doesn’t know about them. Rest assured: Your physician has heard it all before, and is only interested in helping you—not judging. If you feel judged by your doctor, or a nagging voice tells you that your doctor doesn’t care, switch providers. You deserve the best possible care, and can only get it when you feel heard by your provider.

Ask About Lifestyle Factors. Various lifestyle factors can affect your mental health. For instance, research consistently shows that exercise can help with depression and that meditation can improve sleep. Ask your doctor if any lifestyle decisions might improve your mental health. You should also share lifestyle factors that may be relevant to your medication. If you have difficulty sleeping, that might preclude stimulants, which can make you struggle even more with sleep.

Consider Therapy in Conjunction With Medication. Therapy helps your brain adjust to mental health conditions, and teaches you to correct bad habits, thinking errors, and dangerous thought patterns. For some people, therapy can even eventually eliminate the need for medication. Even if you need to be on medication for the rest of your life, though, therapy is an invaluable tool. You will feel better faster, and experience more comprehensive healing, with therapy. It’s a wise investment in your well being, so ask your psychiatrist if he or she can work with your therapist—or refer you to an appropriate provider if you do not already have one.

References

Shute, N. (2011, August 04). Antidepressant use climbs, as primary care doctors do the prescribing. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2011/08/06/138987152/antidepressant-use-climbs-as-primary-care-doctors-do-the-prescribing