The introduction of Thorazine, an antipsychotic medication, in the mid 1950s led to multiple changes in mental health including positive (increased levels of independence, reduced psychiatric stay, and control of symptoms) and negative (terrible side effects, over-medicating, prescription drug abuse, and de-institutionalization) outcomes. Leeriness of psychotropic drugs has continued into 2013 and many supporters of medication usage are being met with resistance.
With the possibility of tardive dyskinesia (a disorder characterized by involuntary movements throughout the body) and problematic side effects (nausea, weight gain, blurred vision, and muscle spams or tremor), it’s no wonder so many people would fight tooth and nail to avoid consumption of these medications. Haldol, an antipsychotic drug often prescribed for Schizophrenia, has side effects as bothersome as:
- restless muscle movements in the eye,
- very stiff or rigid muscles,
- pale skin, seizures,
- fainting, fast pounding heartbeat, or
- breast enlargement
As a therapist having worked with patients taking antipsychotic meds, I understand the fear, resistance, and concern involved in accepting a prescription. On the other hand, meds are essential in most cases to balance uncontrollable symptoms, relieve problems associated with one’s illness such as hallucinations or inability to sleep, and provide a stable foundation for recovery or moderation of symptoms. Poor adherence or strict resistance to medications has resulted in suicide, victimization, incarceration, and homicide in many cases.
Psychiatric medication continues to be a controversial topic, especially for holistic doctors and therapists. As a supporter of holistic approaches to care, I also understand the desire to be “holistic.” But we must also be realistic. When the negatives of the illness outweigh the negatives of taking the medication, it is important to do what is best.
Another issue is that families and caregivers are often intimidated by healthcare professionals and often feel no need to ask questions, have meds adjusted, or completely changed. This can become increasingly more difficult if your loved one has a poor relationship with a healthcare professional. It’s important to build a good relationship (or find another doctor) and ask questions.
There are 5 important questions that families and caregivers should ask a healthcare provider about medication:
- What does this medication actually do?
- How can this medication positively and negatively affect my loved one
- Is there a cheaper, generic version of this medication?
- If this medication does not work or side effects are bothersome, can this med be switched?
- Are there ways I could receive financial help for covering prescription costs?
Final tips for Families, Caregivers, & Friends
- It is important to research prescriptions given to a loved one by calling your local pharmacy for information (with the permission of your loved one due to HIPAA laws) or getting online. You can go to the Online Drug Index .
- Stay informed by reading information regarding medication usage. Anything that is put into the body and can affect the mind and nervous system should be researched.
- Another important thing to consider is having a frank conversation with your loved one about the importance of taking their meds. You can have a doctor or pharmacist talk with your loved one about the importance of taking the meds. Contact your local NAMI for resources on medication adherence.
It can be very difficult for families and caregivers to encourage a loved one to take medication. It’s even more devastating when you witness the severity of the illness without meds. The best weapon is knowledge.
Feel free to share your story, I’d like to hear it.
All the best
Medline Plus. (2013). Tardive Dyskinesia. Retrieved March 13, 2013, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000685.htm.