Recently I was in a Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) group which is usually directed towards those who suffer from Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). I had a girl in my group who suffered from this diagnoses share her thesis with me since she was in the midst of getting her masters. I’m usually very open-minded about thesis and try to see it from all points of view, but this one caught me a little off-guard especially since this girl suffered from the same diagnoses as me – just in a totally different way. Her thesis was that people who suffer from psychiatric illnesses should never be put on medication unless 100% necessary and the length of this medicated time should never exceed 1 year…
I’m not one to judge somebody for their thesis, but hearing someone diagnosed with BPD come up with this was interesting to me especially considering that BPD is usually combined with a chemical imbalance. I’ve learned throughout my many years of treatment that not all people with the same diagnoses are the same. I always thought that a borderline has trouble with impulse control…bipolar people have problems with mania & depression…addicts are addicted to street drugs…obsessive-compulsive people need to wash their hands…but the fact is a diagnosis is great to have but each person with the diagnoses can have a completely different experience. This is a great example of this girl in my DBT group because she was in therapy but never needed medication, meanwhile, I was in intensive therapy and on heavy medication but both of us had Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). Getting a diagnosis is a huge relief for a lot of people, it helps us learn we aren’t alone in our struggles, however, the treatment for one diagnosis is never only one way.
I’ve been taking psychiatric medication for over 10 years and I personally know over a dozen people that have done the same. Medication and mental illness is usually a pretty controversial topic with people often being on the far end of one side compared to the far end on the other. Before shouting out an opinion on what side you are on remember that every single case of psychiatric medication is individual and there is no such thing as a happy pill. There is no amount of milligrams of a certain medicine that will cure your illness and there is no amount of medication that cures everyone instantly. It takes time, patience, and hard work.
I’m going to use the medication I am personally on for the example since it is the medication I am most familiar and knowledgeable on. I can also match this medication to reasons they’re needed and particular symptoms.
If you haven’t heard one of the million times I proudly admit to having Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), these are my diagnoses. As someone who has been on the more severe end of these disorders, I was first put on medication at 13-years-old. It took me five years before I found my proper “medication cocktail.” I went through trails with Lithium, Valium, Zoloft, Celexa, Ativan, Paxil, Clonazepam, Abilify, Zyprexa, and Abilify. Please remember this doesn’t necessarily mean that it will take you years to find your best-med cocktail, it’s different for everybody. I personally went through all these medications quickly because I was under 24hr surveillance. My cocktail now consists of Seroquel XR, Prozac, Wellbutrin, Testosterone, and Doxycycline. I also try to take vitamins since I’m vegan, so B12 is usually mixed in in the morning.
I want to highlight that if you are on several heavy psychiatric medications and you are at-risk for suicide or self-harm please talk to your doctor and ask your doctor for a blister-pack, or have someone distribute your medication.
A lot of people who don’t suffer from mental illness take psychiatric medication. Several weeks of a medication such as Ativan can help alleviate the pain of Situational-Depression or help someone going through a grieving period. Not every single person you meet that takes psychiatric medication is mentally ill, however, those who do suffer daily from mental illness are more than often on heavy psychiatric medication. This is where a lot of people get confused, thinking that all medication is built to help alleviate poor mental health symptoms is usually where the stigma of being on medication comes from. What we need to remember is the fact that not all people on psychiatric medication are mentally ill. These people are often on this type of medication to help build serotonin when their levels are situationally low. People who are on medication for their mental illness usually need a regular dose of a certain medication to help restore their chemical imbalance – I want to pause here – if you notice the way I worded the sentences above on medication will really help you understand what the difference is within mental health problems and being mentally ill.
Often you will hear mental health advocates say that everyone in the world knows someone struggling with mental health. Now, this can be perceived wrong at times because everyone knows someone with mental health…because we ALL have mental health! Think of it this way…everyone in the world has different levels of health and mental health is the exact same thing but we slide in the word mental which refers to our satisfaction, functioning levels, and lifestyle.
I recognize as a mental health advocate but I often don’t use the phrase “everyone knows someone!” because when we say this we leave out the entire group of people that actually suffer from mental illness. Only 2% of people who recognize with mental health problems have the chemical imbalance. So when we say everyone knows someone, this doesn’t mean that everyone should be on Prozac. I also want to highlight that being on a psychiatric medicine has NOTHING to do with inner strength or willpower.
“Psychiatric medication is often used to help alleviate poor mental health symptoms, therefore, not all people who take psychiatric medication are mentally ill.”
“People suffering from mental illness often take psychiatric medication on a regular basis to help build and maintain the proper percentage of chemicals in the brain. These people are often born with chemical imbalances.”
At the end of the day being on psychiatric medication is a discussion to be had by you and your doctor. A doctor once had a seminar with several patients, me involved, about why we shouldn’t be on medication for life, but afterwards he approached me to let me know that the discussion didn’t apply to some people in the group (it was mandatory for the unit) and how that is ok and nothing to be ashamed of because just like any medication it is extremely individual and dependant on symptoms, biology, experience, and tolerance.