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Medicating the Mind — Debunking Myths About Medicine in Mental Health

We all know that psychiatry is fraught with numerous stigmas, and of those, one of the greatest skepticisms is levied at the medication of the mind.

There is perhaps more blot on the escutcheon of psychiatric drugs than on any other area of medicine. Today we are going to talk about some of them, and what the actual reality is.

Myth 1: Using Psychiatric Medicine Means You’re “Crazy”

This is an age-old paradigm, that the psychiatrist is for the “crazy.” With greater access to education, as well as large media interest — mostly because of the openness of a host of celebrities to discuss their struggles with mental illness, this has changed somewhat, and a greater volume of people have started to access the help they need in combating their illness.

There is still, however, the lingering effect of years and years of misinformation as people still believe that those taking psychiatric medication for mental illness are ‘too weak’ or are looking for a ‘quick fix’ rather than dealing with their issues. Attitudes like this can often dishearten people from accessing the help they need out of fear of being stigmatized.

Myth 2: (The DD) Drug Dependence

Another common myth is that psychiatric medicine creates dependency. The oft mentioned lines “you’ll become an addict” and “you won’t be able to function without them now” are still expressed by many of the friends and families of those who bring up the subject, or admit to their use of psychiatric medicine to help with their condition.

While it is true that there are some medications that, when poorly administered, cause dependence, this is much less than other forms of common medicines, such as those used for pain. Also, compared to all the medicine used in psychiatry, the potential for dependency is below 10%.

The stigma attached to drug dependency has people believing, incorrectly of course, like the famous slogan for the stackable potato-chip brand Pringles, that ` once you pop, you can’t stop`.

This myth has people believing that once you start psychiatric medication, your body acclimatizes and gets used to the drug, and without it, your brain simply can’t function, so you cannot stop, ever.

This is however not true of most problems. For example, drugs to treat severe mental illnesses like schizophrenia and bipolar disease pose no risk of addiction, they are not associated with any cravings and simply alleviate symptoms and improve health. Of course, there are some cases where addiction is possible, like for those drugs that relieve anxiety and improve sleep, however, those at risk are those who are prone to addiction and most people who use these drugs can do so without fear of dependency.

Cases where it is necessary to administer medication for an individual’s entire life are minimal. In most instances, treatments are reduced over time, and there are many other interventions to alleviate symptoms that help keep a person from having to take medications for life.

Myth 3: Medications Destroy The Brain!

Another famously purported myth (there are many more), is that psychiatric medicine is very “strong”. People are scared, terrified even damage or degradation of their brains after prolonged use, which is absurd, because medicine designed to treat and relieve symptoms can also somehow damage it?

The truth is psychiatric medicine helps regulate chemical imbalances in the brain and has gone through years of rigorous medical and scientific testing. It does not as some erroneously believe `damage` the brain.

Some Other Myths You May Have Heard

“Isn’t medication for people who are just too weak to manage their problems?”

Psychiatric medication is used to treat a medical disorder, just because the disorder happens to be in the brain as opposed to the heart or the lungs is not indicative of weakness in the slightest.

“Natural remedies work the same as medications and are not toxic.”

Although prefixing the word `natural` gives us the feeling of clean, non-toxic good-for-you vibes, these so-called `natural remedies` are untested, the results unverified and the ingredients often unknown. Yes, all medication has side-effects, but this is weighed against the benefit, the proven benefit that it can bring to an individual and their illness. To pit one against the other simply makes no sense.

“Antidepressants will turn me into a zombie.”

Sedation is a side effect of antidepressants that is generally dose-dependent; an adjustment of the dosage will solve the problem of sluggishness, low energy, and mood.

Conclusion

The important thing with psychiatric medicine and all mental health treatments, in general, is to achieve a good doctor-patient relationship.

There is a mutual responsibility in achieving this therapeutic bond based on trust, collaboration, and sensitive and empathetic listening which will allow the patient to get the best treatment for their condition, whether that be through the use of therapy, medication, or a combination of the two.

If you do decide in using medication to help manage your condition, it is important to express your questions and/or concerns to your health care consultant, this will allow your fears, anxieties, and uncertainties to be expressed, and will encourage responsible and active participation in your treatment rather than just taking whatever your doctor sees fit without taking into consideration what is best for you.

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