Willson: Consider medication for mental illness

Lauren Willson

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

If you or someone you know is struggling with the thought of taking a pill to help them in their mental health recovery process, don’t discount the idea. Peer-reviewed studies and countless personal success stories have demonstrated the beneficial effects of psychiatric medication on mental health.

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Many struggle with the idea of taking medication to help treat their mental illness, myself included. For years I feared that if I used psychiatric drugs, I would become dependent upon the substance to feel normal, or worse — I would cease to be “me” and merely become a drugged-up doppelganger of my former self. These fears were all unwarranted, and I wish someone had more clearly and logically explained to me the rationale behind supplemental medication for mental illness.

Mental illnesses — which include conditions like depression, anxiety and eating disorders — are extremely complex conditions with an array of individual, genetic and societal factors involved in onset, according to the Mayo Clinic. It is insufficient and inaccurate to peg their development solely on abnormal brain chemistry. Indeed, the chemical imbalance theory has been largely dismissed as a comprehensive explanation for psychological disorders, according to a professionally reviewed Healthline article.

That being said, medication can be a highly effective supplement to other forms of treatment, such as cognitive-behavioral and dialectical-behavioral therapy. Mental Health America asserts that “Medications often help the most when they’re part of an overall treatment program.”

Depending on one’s condition, the type of medication recommended may vary. Antidepressants, anxiolytics (anti-anxiety), antipsychotics, stimulants and mood stabilizers encompass the primary categories of psychiatric medications.

In some cases, psychotherapy alone may be determined to be more efficacious than a program incorporating prescription drugs. But in those instances where medication is professionally recommended, it’s important to weigh different options and understand the full benefits and disadvantages of each one.

Antidepressants are typically prescribed for depression, anxiety, insomnia and chronic pain. Examples of antidepressants include Prozac (fluoxetine), Zoloft (sertraline), and Celexa (citalopram). The National Institute of Mental Health mentions three primary kinds of antidepressants: Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, Serotonin and Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors, and Bupropion.

Most of these drugs have been shown to demonstrate comparable efficacy in reducing depressive and anxious symptoms, according to a 2011 report by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

But some people, for reasons not entirely understood, respond better to these drugs than others. In some cases, none of the three aforementioned antidepressants may be the best option, which may lead a psychiatrist to recommend alternative substances like tricyclics, tetracyclics, and monoamine oxidase inhibitors, according to NIMH.

As with antidepressants, anxiolytics have repeatedly been shown to be more effective than placebo or homeopathic remedies in treating anxious symptoms, as demonstrated by a 2015 meta-analysis published in the journal of International Clinical Psychopharmacology.

Antipsychotics, often prescribed for bipolar and schizophrenic disorders, are a highly effective short or long-term treatment for debilitating symptoms like hallucinations, manic-depressive episodes, and grand delusions. WebMD writes that antipsychotics may be used in tandem with mood stabilizers, though occasionally they are sufficient for stabilizing emotions entirely on their own.

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Stimulants are typically prescribed for treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and other attention-related disorders. Recent years have seen an uptick in non-prescribed use of these stimulants, such as Adderall, especially among young adults and college students, supposedly for the benefit of improving study ability. But a 2012 review in “Brain and Behavior” showed that use of prescription stimulants very rarely improves cognitive ability in individuals whether they have ADHD or not.

Clearly, there are many potential avenues when it comes to prescription drug treatment. Given the complexity and sheer number of mental illnesses—the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual V lists 297 distinct disorders—there is no single path to prescription treatments. In many cases, these drugs may not even be necessary.

If one is struggling with symptoms of mental illness, they should discuss these issues with a qualified professional like a psychiatrist or primary care physician. There’s virtually nothing detrimental that can come from asking for help, and it’s far more likely that the experience will end up being advantageous in one way or another, whether medication ends up being prescribed. For instance, a meeting with a doctor could lead to one connecting with a great counselor who helps manage symptoms of anxiety using non-pharmacological methods.

The main thing to remember is that prescription drugs can be highly effective when given for the appropriate reasons and taken according to doctor’s recommendations. Don’t be afraid of losing yourself or becoming dependent upon the substances. Since I began taking Prozac for depression and Clonazepam for anxiety, I have never felt more like my old, true self. Thanks to the effects of SSRIs and anxiolytics, I feel I can finally access the authentic part of my brain that was once clouded by a fog of mental illness.

Lauren Willson can be reached at letters@collegian and online via Twitter @WillsonLauren