By Leigh Carey
At some point in time, we all have to take medication from the Doctor to make us feel better. We explain our symptoms and medical professionals make the best choice as to what drugs would help to cure or manage our illness. Some drugs, or groups of drugs are well known…. Pain killers, antibiotics and steroids… we all have a fair idea of what their purpose is and the expected results. Although we may not fully understand the science behind the prescribed medication of illnesses or conditions that are more long term, such as diabetes, heart disease or asthma, there is a huge amount of awareness and information around the conditions themselves, which allows us to feel confident in the treatment.
This confidence and understanding seems to be a lot less likely when it comes to medication that helps to manage a mental illness. First of all, because of the stigma surrounding being identified as having a mental health issue, often for mild to moderate issues, the Doctor may not even say “you have a mental health issue, and here is medication to help”. Mental ill health …. Just internally ask yourself what that term conjures up in your head. Don’t worry, most people will be picturing the same thing. The fact is thought that there is just as broad a spectrum of mental health conditions as there effects as there is physical health conditions. And therefore there is a massive inventory of medications to help with these issues at a medical professionals disposal. The problem is, if the patient finds it difficult to accept that their lack of sleep, migraines, palpitations, weight loss or gain, anger, stress, poor concentration etc may be caused by mental ill health, it makes it difficult for a Doctor to be explicit about the drugs purpose, for fear that the stigma attached could make the patient wary of taking them.
It’s truly bizarre isn’t it? Can you imagine if someone who was suffering from diabetes was offered insulin as a treatment, responded by saying “oh no no no, I don’t believe in that kind of thing”. But yet “happy pills” are regarded as failure or a sign of weakness for the person who is prescribed them. Why do you judge your mental self so much more harshly than you would your physical self?
It could very well be that it is this stigma around the illness and the treatments available, that causes patients, even when they know they are suffering from mental ill health, to not know what they are taking. Often people don’t know what it does, what the side effects are and how long they to be prescribed for. I meet so many clients, who when asked what medications they are on, don’t know the names or the dosage..let alone what the point is of taking them.
To find out this information, it is not necessary to spend endless hours on online forums or have a medical degree, the local GP or Pharmacist should be more that happy to explain anything a person wants to know about their treatment. The danger with not having this understanding is that it can lead to the patient having negative side effects and not even know it….or not taking the medication under the right circumstances. Or as they start to feel better, discontinuing the medication, without realising the need to maintain it over an agreed period of time.
It really really doesn’t need to be this way. Knowing your treatment is not about second guessing the Doctor’s decision. The more you know about you…the better. Understanding how they will help and why, will help you to feel confident that you are in control of your own wellbeing and being proactive in feeling better. The personal responsibility you have in your own care is vital, it helps you identify possible side effects, positive results and the options you have in your own care.We all should know what we are taking and why. Even if they are scary “happy pills”, they aren’t a magic potion! There is always logic and purpose as to why a person might need them and education is a powerful thing, particularly when someone is feeling unwell. It is our body after all.