Breaking the Stigma: How to Have a Conversation About Taking Medication
Let’s look at two sentences:
“I take Prinivil for my blood pressure”
“I take Zoloft for my depression”
Now imagine saying these out loud to your friends or family members. For many, the first sentence feels easy to share but the second sentence is more difficult. While both require informing someone of taking medication for a health reason, the second is filled with bias, fear, and beyond that, societal stigma.
The conversation around mental health has become more common in recent years. However, the conversation on taking medication for mental health has been more stagnant. This stems from many reasons including discrimination, lack of access, and social stigma. This is preventing lots of people from seeking the help they need.
At SohoMD, we believe everyone should be given the chance to have high-quality, holistic healthcare. We look at the whole person to determine how to provide them with the tools to promote long-term well-being. So, we think it is important to have these conversations, help break the stigma, and prompt overall better health outcomes for all.
Understanding Medication for Mental Health
Did you know almost 1 in 5 Americans take medication for their mental health? Most likely, you know somebody who takes some sort of medication for their mental health.
Some of the most common medications used today are:
- Escitalopram oxalate (Lexapro)
- Fluoxetine (Prozac)
- Paroxetine HCI (Paxil)
- Sertraline (Zoloft)
- Bupropion (Wellbutrin)
- Clonazepam (Klonopin)
- Lorazepam (Ativan)
- Dextroamphetamine-amphetamine (Adderall)
- Methylphenidate (Ritalin)
These medications are used for people who experience depression, anxiety, or ADHD. The most common mental health conditions in the United States. With the state of the world today, between pandemics, never-ending news cycles, and doom scrolling social media. It is easy to get stuck in a rut of overwhelming sadness or worry.
While medication shouldn’t be the first answer to solving your problems it should be a conversation. So let’s talk about how they work.
How Does Medication Work on the Brain and Body?
Depending on the type of medication you are using they will work differently in your brain and body. So let’s just go over a few of the most common.
SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors)
SSRIs are commonly prescribed to help with depression, helping to ease moderate to severe depression symptoms. Serotonin is a chemical messenger (neurotransmitter) that carries signals between your brain. Serotonin helps with several body functions including mood, sleep, digestion, nausea, wound healing, bone health, blood clotting, and sexual desire.
The SSRIs increase the level of serotonin by slowing down the process in which it gets absorbed, allowing more serotonin to become available. This also makes more serotonin available to improve the transmission of messages through the brain.
SSRIs are not addictive but can cause some side effects in people during the first few weeks of treatment. These side effects can include nausea, vomiting, headache, drowsiness, dry mouth, insomnia, nervousness, reduced sexual desire, or an impact on appetite. While it is unlikely someone will experience any of the symptoms longer than a week, it is possible. Talk to your doctor to learn more.
While SSRIs can also treat people experiencing anxiety, sometimes a doctor may prescribe someone a type of benzodiazepine.
Benzodiazepines are a group of CNS depressants that induce feelings of calm, drowsiness, and sleep. Similarly to SSRIs, these medications help slow the signals in your brain. They may be prescribed to treat severe anxiety or severe insomnia.
This type of medication will be used for shorter periods of time due to its possibly addictive effects. They also stop working as well after periods of four weeks because your brain becomes used to them. However, this is always a conversation to have with your doctor depending on your mental health needs.
Medications such as dextroamphetamine-amphetamine (Adderall) and methylphenidate (Ritalin) are common prescriptions for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
With ADHD it is difficult to focus on tasks, sit still for long periods of time, and maintain impulse control. Medication can help those experiencing issues with ADHD and allow some focused time. Often people with ADHD lack dopamine. Dopamine is another brain messenger (neurotransmitter). It helps with learning, motivation, heart rate, blood vessel function, mood, attention, movement, and many more physical functions.
Medications for ADHD will help increase levels of dopamine (and possibly other neurotransmitters such as serotonin) to bring your brain from being overstimulated to a normal state of stimulation.
ADHD also has the potential to become addictive and is often abused by those who don’t necessarily need it. Prolonged misuse of Adderall can increase possible side effects including decreased appetite, insomnia, increased heart rate, dry mouth, digestive problems, headaches, anxiety, depression, mood swings, suicidal thoughts, and increased risk of heart attacks.
If you have any concerns, speak to your prescribing doctor so they can help lead you toward a well-rounded health plan.
Common Myths and Misconceptions
There are some common myths and misconceptions in regard to psychiatric medication. We are going to address a few to help bring more clarity to the topic.
Myth: Medication will change who I am
Truth: Psychiatric medications are used to reduce symptoms and restore balance. When needed, medication will improve your quality of life without changing your personality.
Myth: Psychiatric medication can make symptoms worse
Truth: Effects of psychiatric medication will be different for every person. If you are experiencing worse symptoms while taking a certain medication, that is not the medication you should be taking. Speak with your doctor about providing alternatives so you can experience a higher quality of life and engage in healthy habits.
Myth: I will become addicted to my psychiatric medication
Truth: Certain medications include the chance of addiction to states of being, primarily benzodiazepines and stimulants. However, when medication is used as advised by your prescribing physician, psychiatric medications should not make you addicted. Medication is given, most commonly by a psychiatrist, in a controlled therapeutic environment. If you are experiencing symptoms of addiction it is best to have a conversation with your doctor.
Myth: Medication will cause horrible side effects
Truth: Just like every medication, there is a possibility of side effects. When being prescribed medication, your doctor will weigh the positive benefits of using the medication and the possible risks. If the risks outweigh the benefits then your doctor will not prescribe you that medication. However, more often than not side effects with medication will arise quickly and you can immediately have a conversation with your doctor on the best route forward.
Myth: I don’t need medication because I can change my lifestyle habits
Truth: It is always best to practice healthy lifestyle habits such as good hygiene, mindfully moving your body, and good sleep. However, this is not always the key to success. The key to success is having a conversation with your providers to determine an overall wellbeing plan. Together, you can determine what works and what doesn’t. This may include taking medication to help restore balance and live a higher quality life.
Talking to your doctor about medication for mental health
We have said it probably too many times to count in this blog article alone. But it all begins with having a conversation with your doctor on how to live a fulfilling life. Here are some things you should bring up to your doctor if you are concerned about symptoms and you can feel the effects in your daily life.
- Explain your symptoms
- Talk about how it affects your daily life/routine
- Give a quick summary of your routine (eating, drinking, work, exercise, social activities, etc.)
- Talk about your history with mental health and medication
- Ask questions and tell your doctor about your concerns
These will help your doctor start you in the right direction to receive the best possible healthcare plan for you.
Addressing Taking Medication with Friends, Family, and Coworkers
Informing someone of your personal medication information is completely up to you. Nobody except for yourself and your doctor needs to know about your health decisions. However, if you do decide to tell others about taking medication. Here are some tips to help.
- Create a safe environment for yourself. Find a place where you feel the most comfortable to sit down and have a conversation about it. Consider location, privacy, and time.
- If you feel unsafe or uncomfortable telling someone based on the reactions you have witnessed in the past, consider not telling them. Not everybody will have the same views, understanding, or language toward the topic and it’s OK to keep some details private.
- Use “I” statements. This helps convey the importance for you and your health decisions.
- Write down or practice what you want to say beforehand
- If you’re unsure if you want to talk to others about it, consider talking to a therapist
Personal experiences, media stories, cultural stereotypes, and more shape attitudes and beliefs around mental health. When these attitudes are positive, it can result in more inclusive and understanding communities. When these reactions are adverse, people may lean toward exclusion, removal from daily activities, and at worst discrimination and exploitation.
That’s why it is important to talk about these issues openly and with kindness. We can help lead others toward treatment and recovery with the proper communication tactics.
If you are interested in learning more about a holistic understanding of yourself and your mental health needs use our easy-to-use provider directory. SohoMD offers a unique, high-quality healthcare experience for mental health and general wellness. Learn more today.