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Psychiatric Medication: Do I Need It?
by Maggie Hahn, APN/CNS

Medications for depression, anxiety, ADHD or other mental health issues can seem scary and mysterious. Many people who could benefit from medication may resist the idea because of the fear that it will change them into a different person, or a “zombie” , or the idea that they should be able to use “will power” to feel better. Sometimes family members are upset by the idea of medication and try to convince the person that they can control the issue without resorting to medication.

Today’s theories of mental health problems are based on neurobiological research as well as emotional and psychological treatments. Both genetics and environmental stress are implicated in the occurrence of psychiatric disorders.

In the world of modern psychiatric medications, there are fewer side effects and more benefits than ever before.  New medications are continually being introduced. The goal of taking medication is for the patient to feel free of symptoms like depression or anxiety, and to experience a feeling of well-being.

There are several possible reasons for seeking a medication evaluation. Consistently experiencing symptoms for more than 2 weeks, such as insomnia, crying, butterflies in the stomach, panic attacks or constant worry, low mood, irritability, crying, loss of pleasure in daily activities, or thoughts of death, are signs that medication could help. Decreased concentration, motivation and disorganization at school, work or home are also indications for medication. Acute symptoms like thoughts of suicide, physical aggression, or inability to function at school or work require immediate attention.

A medication evaluation should include a health history, current and past medications or treatments, current symptoms and stressors, and family history. The prescriber should discuss medication options, possible risks and side effects, and also the benefits of the medicine.  If medication is started, there should be follow up visits to assess how the medication is working, and to consider possible dosage adjustments. Most medications are started at the lowest possible dose and then are gradually increased until remission of symptoms. When the medications are discontinued they are gradually decreased to prevent any discontinuation discomfort. It should always be possible to ask questions and voice any concerns to the prescriber.

Most patients are surprised and pleased at the benefits they gain from appropriately prescribed and monitored medication.