Content Warning: Discusses themes of depression, anxiety and suicide. If you're feeling suicidal, or need someone to talk to, do not hesitate to reach out. Find your national hotline here.
Can medication fix it and should you take it?
Though the pandemic is somewhat over, we still feel the impacts today. Not only economically and socially, but most particularly through the coined 'Mental Health Epidemic'. Worldwide healthcare systems are swamped with people suffering from mental health problems. 1 in 8 people live with a mental health disorder, and it's predicted that depression will be the leading cause of disease burden across the World - that is if it hasn't already.
Over 700,000 adults commit suicide every year, and for each death, hundreds more attempt or seriously consider suicide. Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in people ages 15-44 worldwide, with higher rates in men than in women. Remember, these are only the reported incidents - many people fail to report their contemplations, and numerous countries do not report their numbers.
Clearly, then, healthcare systems are experiencing new heights in diagnosing and treating mental disorders, and around 970 million people seek medical help for mental health disorders. But with requests for support at an all-time high, the only form of 'quick' treatment (aside from generic self-help tips online) seems to be medication - but is this solving the problem?
Medication for mental health problems
The number of people who receive medication as a form of mental health support differs in every country. Though, generally, it seems surprisingly low compared to those suffering from mental health problems, so it's probably best to take advantage of any support offered. There are various forms of medication for mental health since it's believed that biological factors such as chemical or hormonal imbalances, or a lack of serotonin, cause symptoms of disorders like depression - so the medication helps reduce those imbalances or increase serotonin levels and therefore reduces the symptoms. The problem with this, however, is that it doesn't help with the rest of the complexities of mental health disorders.
There are numerous theories surrounding how a person can suffer mental health problems, however, the most significant would be the idea of both biological and environmental factors play a role in mental health. More specifically, it is suggested that where biological traits such as a family history of depression will make you more sensitive to depression, and environmental triggers like stress or abuse can cause that depression to substantially develop. That being said, the biological factor is somewhat effectively remedied by consistent medication over a certain period. However, that does not get rid of the factors causing depression - this is often done through counselling, therapy, and consistent changes in lifestyle and habits to promote a healthier life. Often, therapy assists in changing the mindset of a person with depression or other mental health disorders, and it can not be said that medication can have that same effect - it merely boosts the hormones and chemicals required to ensure that biological hurdles are more easily overcome.
With that being said, it can be questioned whether the current procedures for handling mental health disorders are relatively effective. In my own experience, medication is handed out commonly for mental health issues that are considered moderate to severe - and you are put on a waiting list that can last up to more than 12 months for counselling or therapy. That would mean you can go an entire year suffering despite having the medication, and it is highly unlikely your mindset will do a complete flip on how you interpret situations, and your emotions can still feel relatively intense. However, with such high demand for mental health treatment, it could be said that handing out medication like candy may be the best approach for the time being. That isn't to say, though, that this is effective.
Furthermore, it is important to mention that while there are faster approaches to receiving help - such as private healthcare or online psychiatric treatment - these avenues tend to be costly. Betterhelp - a worldwide modern hub to quickly receive counselling and therapy, can be £40 - £80 per week for online therapy, and in-person therapy can be around $100 per session. Medication itself without financial benefits or support from the government can be £9.65 per prescription (each prescription lasting a week to a month) and can cost even more depending on what medication it is you require. That being said, many people who cannot afford private treatment are often trapped in long wait times and simple 10-minute phone calls with doctors to assist with prescriptions. One can safely ask, is the current system beneficial for those suffering from their mental health?
Medication or therapy?
On the other hand, whether or not a 'quick fix' is effective can depend entirely on the patient. Bear in mind, medication does not resolve the problem overnight. In most cases, it can take 4-8 weeks for an antidepressant or antipsychotic medication to take effect. However, its effect can also occur a little faster than therapy, especially with waitlists. Both treatments require you to be consistent, and that in itself may provide a reason why healthcare systems are quick to throw medication your way.
After the pandemic, and with global poverty on a steady and fast incline, more and more patients turn up to the hospital sick. The systems worldwide are completely overwhelmed with the number of patients, so may not be able to provide a fast and effective treatment which covers each side of the coin. Not only that, but sufferers of mental health may not be able to afford to change their life around to fit in a couple of hours of therapy each week. With bill prices rising and the property market crashing, people may be working overtime and can't afford to stop doing so. With that in mind, medication can provide benefits to assist in improving mood and reducing its intensity while patients go about their day-to-day life.
This can then be an effective aid to short-term experiences with mental health, so it is therefore dependent on the patient's experiences to determine what treatment, or if both, would be the best for them. What can be said though, is that medication only fixes part of the problem: it assists in regulating hormones to reduce the intensity of such feelings. The ideation of suicide may reduce, but the fact is that the experiences, stressors, and negative cognitive behaviours cannot be fully resolved through medication. The patient may be vulnerable to the return of mental health issues if they finish medication too quickly. Furthermore, some cases of anti-depressant courses have shown that symptoms can increase, and some boxes have warnings for suicidal thoughts. For some patients then, medication and therapy may be the best approach - depending on the source of the problem.
Should I take the medication?
In essence, yes - if your doctor is comfortable with giving the prescription. A lot of antidepressants and antipsychotics may not be suitable for people who have certain health issues, such as blood pressure, or diabetes. For example, a common prescription for those suffering from anxiety-related symptoms, such as racing heart rate, hyperventilation, shaking, and panic, is to prescribe a beta-blocker that essentially forces your heart and body to calm down. It's often used for those with high blood pressure too, so if you're already on one kind it would not be wise to jump onto another without disclosing your current health issues with your doctor. It's better to ensure your doctor is fully aware of other health concerns you have to ensure the medication doesn't impact you negatively. After all, the entire point is to ensure that you can manage your day-to-day life.
However, there are a few things to consider in making your decision. While medication doesn't fix the problem, it makes living with mental health issues typically more bearable until you have access to treatment that can last longer - like therapy or counselling. If you don't think you can go another 6-12 months without treatment or support, and can't afford it privately, medication may be the best recommendation provided by doctors.
Yet, medication comes with a lot of side effects, much like most medications. Some common side effects can be drowsiness or dizziness, an initial drop in mood, headaches, or anxiety. Though, eventually, the mood-related symptoms can subside once the medication takes full effect - it's important to consider the other side effects to see if the medication will actually be an effective method of treatment.
Basically, you've got to weigh the pros and cons and decide for yourself if the ends justify the means. in some cases, medication has been the most beneficial between medication and therapy, and in others, it was more of a placeholder while patients waited for therapy. However, sometimes the medication can make the feelings worse, but that may only be because the type of antidepressant isn't right for you. Sometimes, it's worth experimenting with your doctor different medications to see if any of them are effective for your specific needs. Everyone is different, and every medication affects everyone differently.
Remember, medication may not be able to fully fix the problem, but it may well make it much easier to deal with until you have access to a treatment that can. That's not to say that in less severe cases it won't fix the problem, but where there has been a traumatic event or a long-term illness, it may take more than 1 or 2 pills a day. With that being said, you know yourself best, so if you think medication can make a difference, there's no harm in talking it through and testing it with your doctor.