I’ve noticed a very common misunderstanding of the use of medication for depression and wanted to take a moment to write some words on it. Mental health is a field that is surrounded by a lot of myths and misconceptions because it is not an exact science and because of some bad experiences that individuals share the whole field is viewed as being based on faulty methods. But like any field there are individuals that are responsible, hard working and knowledgeable about it, then there are others that are not. So unfortunately even people that are supposed to be trusted professionals fail us.
I’ve run into many people that seem to believe that medication is a fix all, you take a pill, it makes you happy and poof no more depression. They are also under the impression that if you take medication it is because you are too weak minded or lazy to put in work to help yourself. Well contrary to popular belief that is all simply not true. Depression is funny thing, there could be many causes for it. For many people it is due to outside forces, they become victim to certain circumstances in their life. For many others the depression is merely a symptom of a legitimate medical affliction. There are many different methods for dealing with it and working towards better mental health. Just because medication is available and an option it should never be relied on as the only solution. That is a flawed method, one that is reinforced by larger than life marketing campaigns based on individual results. The reality is gaining better mental health is about putting in the work to change the way your mind thinks and medication is simply a tool to help until you can do it on your own. Does it mean everybody who’s depressed needs medication? Absolutely not. Many people learn through different forms of counseling how to pull themselves out of a depressed state naturally and that is absolutely a great thing, and one of those funny things about how depression works. But for many others they put in the work of going to counseling, take all the advice of doctors and any of their other trusted advisers and still struggle. For those individuals medication is an option that might help them so that they can focus on the work needed to cope with depression. I’m not saying that these people now have to be on drugs for the rest of their life or that without it they could not improve. What I’m saying is that it is a tool, one of many that is an option for those suffering. Actually if the health care system worked better medical professionals would work towards the goal of the people not needing drugs, even with serious mental illnesses. But unfortunately it is a lot easier and cheaper to medicate them instead of finding the true cause and educating them about how to cope with it.
Here’s a little comparison that may help people understand. You go to a regular doctor to maintain your physical health in addition to all the things you can do on your own like getting exercise and eating right. But lets say you suffer from high cholesterol, high blood pressure or diabetes. These are very serious conditions that could be managed without the help of medications. But for some medication might be needed to manage the condition while they make lifestyle adjustments to improve their health. Usually the goal is to get to a better state of health so the medication is not needed. If a doctor did not recommend other methods that doctor would be seen as irresponsible and labeled a bad doctor not the medical field as a whole. Now if you then tell others that you need the medication would they tell you, you’re just lazy or weak? Most people that care and want you to take their advice seriously probably would not. Most would support your decision while offering any help including other methods they know work for other people, mainly to empower you to take all the action you can to improve the situation yourself. Most people understand that you can do everything right and still not remedy the problem without outside help. Still don’t get it? Here’s a much simpler way to view it. Many characterize medication as a crutch for weak people. But wait, crutches are what they give to people with broken legs. Does that mean people with broken legs are too weak or lazy to heal themselves? I would think not, using crutches is expected until the body has time to heal. After that the person would slowly work towards regaining the strength needed to walk on their own. If they continued to use crutches and did not do physical therapy and all the other recommendations of a doctor then you could say the problem was with the individual person. And I really don’t think anybody would claim that crutches are a problem and people shouldn’t use them.
So I ask why such different views on matters of health that are so important? Personally, I think because for so long there has been a prevailing attitude that the mental health industry is full of quack doctors that don’t actually offer helpful solutions. So often you hear about people that relied on only medication and it failed them. It wasn’t the medication that failed them it was the doctors that failed them. If they had taken the time to find a better doctor or somebody that was more experienced in the field of mental health they would have found that there are many different methods of maintaining their mental health and that just like physical health it is balancing act of finding the right methods for your personal situation. There is no simple answer to any problem that we encounter and it should never be a choice between one method or another. Framing things like that limits the power and effectiveness of any method. And in relation to mental health becomes a barrier to those that really need the help seeking it.
Now obviously my hypothetical could go a different way. Some people just might contradict the advice of your doctors. There are many people that deny the validity of the medical field as a whole due to a limited amount of experience and knowledge. Most likely those would not be people that you would look to for support even if there recommendations could help you. In other words their attitude limits the power of their message. When it comes to physical health most people would rather go with the recommendations of a medical professional or at least take the information more seriously because of the experience and knowledge they have to back up their claims. But when it comes to mental health many people will look to anything that will help them because of their desperation and all the mixed messages they receive through individual stories and media hype. The prevailing attitudes towards the mental health industry only serve to blockade many who could greatly benefit from good, helpful medical advice from seeking the help that they need. It is my personal opinion that even those with serious mental illness can live a happy productive life without medication but that is only possible if they equip themselves with the knowledge they need in order to cope with their condition. That is not possible if they assume there are no answers for them going that route because of other people’s bad experiences. For all of the bad experiences there are probably just as many good. However, the good stories are often kept secret because individuals don’t share them for fear of being viewed as weak, lazy, or like there is something wrong with them. It seems to me like that the world of mental illness is viewed in a very different way than physical illness is.
In conclusion, other methods of beating depression should not be viewed as an alternative to professional medical treatment, in fact some may even be techniques that responsible, caring, professional doctors and counselors would teach if more people were willing to trust in them. Just like exercise and eating healthy are part of maintaining good physical health recommended by good doctors in addition to medical technology, maintaining mental health is a balancing act of different techniques along with medical technology if it is needed. To maintain physical health you wouldn’t rely on only one solution to what ails you and you should not, mental health is no different. Beware of falling into the trap of thinking because something does not work for some individuals it is a failure of the method or technology. If you limit your options based on particular experiences, myths and prevailing attitudes, you have already failed yourself and limit your own success.