1 out of every 4 people will experience a mental health problem at some point in their lifetime. A significant number of these people take psychiatric medication to deal with their condition. However, due to the stigma associated with taking such drugs, there stem a lot of myths and misinformation.
Myth: Medicine cannot help a mental problem.
Fact: Mental health conditions, like physical health conditions, have a biological basis behind them. They often result from imbalances of chemicals in our brain and medication serves to rebalance these chemicals.
Myth: If I take pills, I will have to keep on taking them for the rest of my life.
Fact: Most people need to take the medication for a period of time until their symptoms improve and they are in a less vulnerable state, after which they can stop the medicine completely or continue to take them at a very low dose. Sometimes, the drugs have to be taken for a longer period of time and that’s perfectly okay, because it’s about doing what’s best for the person at that point in time. Stopping the drugs suddenly or as soon as you feel better, without a doctor’s approval can cause a lot of negative side effects.
Myth: Psychiatric medication will change my character or turn me into a zombie.
Fact: The medication is aimed at restoring your character to what it was before the mental health problem which impacted your life arose. It gives you the ability to express the full range of emotion in a balanced manner and the potential to be more in touch with what’s going on around you. If you feel flat or emotionless during treatment, your doctor will consider lowering the dose or changing the drug.
Myth: Medication for mental health conditions has a lot of side effects, like weight gain and loss of sex drive.
Fact: Like all medicine, this type of medication also has side effects which can be different for different people. Your doctor prescribes a medicine because they believe that the benefit of the treatment outweighs the risks and side effects. If any particular side effect is worrying you, talk to your doctor or pharmacist as it’s possible to find alternatives or remedies. It’s worth noting that certain conditions like depression themselves decrease sex drive, so medication to treat the problem can improve one’s libido.
Myth: Psychiatric medication is addictive.
Fact: Most psychiatric medication, with a few exceptions, is not addictive. They do not create a dependency, which is where one must continue to increase the dose to have the same effect. Like in the case of side effects, your doctor prescribed the medication because they believe it will benefit you, but if you have any concerns about addiction, it’s important to bring them up.
Barker, P. (2012) First, do no harm: Confronting the myths of psychiatric drugs. 19(4) 451-463
Bhandari,S. Fears and Facts about Antidepressants. Retrieved on 9th July, 2018 from https://www.webmd.com/depression/fears-and-facts-about-antidepressants#1
Nicole Borg is a medical student at the University of Malta and a childminder with Willingness. She has experience working with children with neurodevelopmental disorders and a great interest in psychiatry and development.