Starting Psychiatric Medication
I am often asked whether I think someone should start taking medication for their emotional distress. This is a complicated decision involving a delicate balancing act between benefits and potential harm.
As with any medical intervention, this decision needs to be thought about and discussed with your GP or other prescriber. To help you with this, below is information taken from the Guidance for Psychological Therapists provided by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Prescribed Drug Dependence.
How Does Psychiatric Medication Work?
Psychiatric drugs can be seen as substances that affect the brain by creating altered physical and mental states. These altered states change mood and consciousness, controlling reactions to emotional distress by numbing, tranquilising or sedating a person.
How Does Psychiatric Medication Help Me?
Many people can experience the altered physical and mental states caused by the medication as really helpful. The drugs can numb emotional pain and feel pleasant, relaxing and calming. On the other hand, some people can find the experience very unpleasant.
The important thing to remember is that the drugs do not return you to a state of ‘normal’. The drug is acting to dampen down the symptoms you are feeling, but not resolving the problems that are causing you to feel this way.
Taking psychiatric drugs creates an abnormal state in your brain which in the longer term, could cause more harm than good. This is one of the reasons, together withdrawal reactions, they can be best seen as a temporary, short-term measure or coping mechanism.
What is Withdrawal?
Your brain will adapt to psychiatric drugs so that over time, you need more of the drug to have the same effect. This brain adaption is what leads to withdrawal symptoms if you try to reduce or stop taking the drug.
Withdrawal symptoms can be unpleasant or even debilitating. It is even possible to have ‘mini-withdrawals’ between your normal, regular doses.
This table summarises possible adverse effects of psychiatric medication, together with the possible withdrawal reactions to help you make your decision in consultation with your GP.