Today is World Mental Health Day, and I’ve been thinking a lot about the terms “mental health” and “mental illness” ever since reading a recent post post on the topic by blogger Natasha Tracy.
Natasha contends that using the politically-correct, cheerier-sounding term “mental health” trivializes psychiatric disorders and ends up shortchanging those who suffer from mental illness. That got me thinking again about a question I’ve often pondered: Can long-term, maintenance treatment with psychiatric medication take someone with a “mental illness” and restore him or her to “mental health?”
The answer isn’t as obvious as it might seem.
People who take psychiatric medications long-term are no strangers to stigma, or the threat of it. We perennially face, for example, the question of whether it’s worth risking others’ judgment and the potential negative repercussions of disclosing our conditions — and the fact that we take medication for them.
But you can commit to taking medications long-term and still perpetuate or further the stigma associated with meds. And I don’t just mean that in the sense of keeping your medication regimen secret. Most of us do so in another way altogether that we’re largely unaware of.
The fact is, most people have some kind of internal barometer when it comes to medications – which ones they are willing to take, and which ones they’re not.
Last week, I featured a guest post from M., a reader from Texas who began taking Ritalin for ADHD when she was 12, then quit before college.
M. concluded in retrospect that taking that taking Ritalin taught her she couldn’t rely on herself to control her behavior. Instead, she learned to look to others for feedback, which she thinks provoked her anxiety.
Today, I’m following up with the second half of M.’s medication story, about her experience starting Zoloft in her mid-20s to treat some of that residual anxiety. Read on to find out how she fared during a second stab at medication treatment.
In this post, M., now 34 and living near Dallas, discusses how her views about Ritalin shifted as she got older. Ultimately, she came to suspect that relying on the medication actually exacerbated her anxiety – and may even have led, in a roundabout way, to her going on antidepressants later on.
And now, in her own words:
What are the issues involved in taking stimulant medications for ADHD from early elementary school onward? And what happens when someone who has done this decides to quit the drugs in college – only to find her motivation and academic capabilities diminish without the meds, and to suffer a crisis of identity and mood problems upon resuming them?
Two recent guest posts from a reader raised these questions and prompted ample discussion and comments from readers. In those posts, I let the young woman in question speak for herself. Now, I’d like to highlight some of the larger issues her story illustrates.
Yesterday, I published the first part of a guest post from a young woman, now 20 years old, who had spent the majority of her life – pretty much as long as she can remember, she says – taking medications for ADHD.
After working hard in high school and getting into her top-choice college, she decided she wanted to see what she was like without medication. She wanted to prove to her parents – and to herself – that she could function well in school and in life without the drugs she’d been taking for so long.
The summer before beginning college, she stopped taking her medication. Here, in her words, is what happened afterwards, and how it changed her view of herself and her need for the drugs.
So often when we talk about psychiatric meds, we discuss it only on the most superficial level. But when people have a chance to really open up about the ways they think long-term medication has impacted them, I believe they can share some valuable insights and lessons.
I try to provide that kind of in-depth storytelling in my new book, Dosed: The Medication Generation Grows Up, but with so many medications, so many psychiatric disorders, and infinite life experiences accompanying them, there are many more stories out there to tell.
I was intrigued and pleased, then, when a young woman, a 20-year-old incoming college junior who grew up in Georgia, wrote me to say that she wanted to tell her story of taking medications for ADHD “for as long as I can remember.”
Pediatrician and author Claudia Gold recently published a column about my book, Dosed: The Medication Generation Grows Up, over at The Boston Globe in which she highlighted an issue I’ve been meaning to address here for some time: Young people and medications’ sexual side effects.
The drugs most famous for interfering in the sexual realm are the SSRI antidepressants, like Prozac and Zoloft, which can cause loss of libido and problems with sexual arousal and orgasm. But mood stabilizers, such as Tegretol and Depakote, which are commonly used to treat bipolar disorder, also cause sexual side effects for many people
Both classes of drugs have been increasingly used in young people over the past couple of decades. But if these young people experience sexual side effects from the medications, what are the effects on their psychosexual development? Should we be worried?
I’m going to continue to do that, because there are many more topics I want to discuss (please feel free, as always, to make suggestions in the comments section if there are particular subjects you’d like me to write about).
However, if you’d like to read an account of what got me interested in this subject in the first place, you might want to check out the excerpt from my new book, Dosed: The Medication Generation Grows Up, which is over at Salon.com.
I just wrote a book arguing that taking psychiatric medication from a young age has a profound effect on people’s lives and identities, far more profound than most – including those who take the medications in question – even realize.
But sometimes it’s possible to go too far with this view, to see everything through the prism of mental illness and medication. It’s can be unfair, even dangerous, to assume that just because someone has a history of psychiatric problems and medication use, that that’s the cause of their present problems.
I was reminded of this myself over the weekend.