mentalhealthaware

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I spoke to a friend last week who was in an emotional state of upheaval.
She has battled anxiety and depression for most of her life, has been prescribed numerous drugs, but never sticks with them long enough to find out if they work. She is starting to accept that she needs more help than just meditation and a Bible study at church.

She went to see a new psychiatrist (she moved to a different state several months ago) and he prescribed a brand new drug – one I’d never heard of, and that’s rare in my line of work. I’ve written about more drugs than you can shake a stick at, but this one hasn’t even caused a blip on my radar. That’s because, I found out, the drug is so new that no one has had a chance to file any lawsuits over it yet. (The sad but true reality.) My friend called me to find out what I knew, and I couldn’t help her.

Because the drug is so new, my friend’s insurance won’t pay for it. Her psychiatrist is trying to fix that, but in the meantime, the antidepressant is very expensive and my friend, because of her move, is short on cash and not sure how she’ll pay for it. She explained this to her psychiatrist, who gave her some samples and a coupon.

I am definitely concerned about the potential side effects of a brand new medication, but I’m more concerned that a psychiatrist has started my friend on a brain drug (because that’s what these things are, think about it) that she may or may not be able to keep up with. She is taking a pill that is altering her brain chemistry, and if she can’t afford to continue taking it…then what?

We live in a country of mixed messages when it comes to mental illness.
The list of psychiatric medication is growing and it’s not likely to slow down anytime soon.
The only time we hear about mental illness in America is when someone goes on a violent rampage. After the fact, there are almost always reports from people who knew the perpetrator, people who say “he had problems” or “he was angry” or “he was despondent.” The same is true of suicide. There are usually signs that go ignored or missed.

If it comes out that that person wasn’t taking medication, we collectively shake our heads and ask why. We try to find someone to blame, and we usually blame the offender himself.

But when I read something like this – about how antidepressants aren’t really fixing anything and how 1 in 6 people who take antidepressants aren’t really clinically depressed, it just makes me want to scream. Literally, all of our attempts at breaking through the stigma of mental illness are biting us in the butt because we’re getting two sets of information shouted at us from two different directions.

“GET HELP!”
“No, don’t do that! It probably won’t help anyway!”

Ugh.

I have an appointment with a psychiatrist next month. It has taken me over a year to find one who is taking new patients. I wish I could say I was thrilled, but I’m going to see a doctor I haven’t heard wonderful things about at a facility that is known as the “conveyor belt of psychiatry” – you get in, you get out. You tell them what’s wrong and they hand you a script for something. Not exactly my idea of “getting help,” but it’s my only option. My family doctor wants a psychiatrist to handle my bipolar medication, and I can’t say I blame him.

Jonathan Rottenberg, the author of the HuffPost blog linked above, is correct. We are an over-medicated society. There was a time in history when, if we’d lived in the wrong place, you and I might have been shipped to a concentration camp or extinguished for having a mental illness. It wasn’t that long ago that we might have been locked up in a sanitarium and been subject to all sorts of demented forms of torture as “treatment” right here on American soil. We are slowly beginning to understand that mental illness is truly an illness, but we’re still terrible at explaining the difference between a medical condition and having a bad day. We want everyone to wake up and realize that depression and other mental illnesses are real, and that they might have one, but we get bent out of shape about the influx of people looking for help.

The change starts with quality care, not psychiatric conveyor belts that just want to make sure we’re sufficiently doped when we walk out the door. I don’t know exactly what that would look like. I’m not sure how we go about educating the public about the difference, but I want to be involved in it, and I believe it is necessary. I couldn’t even have a session with my chiropractor until I watched an informational 20-minute video, but I can walk out of a psychiatrist’s office with brain-altering drugs and no real explanation of what I’m putting in my mouth.

I hope that freaks you out a little, too.

So, what’s it going to be? Are we going to encourage people to get help, or are we going to encourage them to avoid it?
It seems to me like the better option is to give them all of the information and help them to make an educated decision. It’s up to us to figure out how to make that a reality.

That brings me to the favor I’m about to ask you.
I’m writing a book, and I want to hear your stories, good and bad, about the psychiatric care you’ve gotten. If you haven’t been able to find any, I want to hear your stories about that, too. Drop me a line at: quandaryblog @ gmail DOT com. (Got to avoid the spam bots!) Please email me your story, don’t leave it in the comments section.

And as always, I’ll see you over at my other blog.