Last month we discussed the stigma surrounding taking medication to manage the symptoms of mental illness as Part I of our Medication and Mental Health blog series. This month, we will be discussing medication management and what you should consider when deciding to take medication and tips on how to properly identify your side-effects. This post is brought to you by an Easterseals New Jersey licensed Marriage and Family therapist , Martha Wolfe.
“How do I know it’s working?” – “How do I keep track?” – “What if things don’t get better?”
“I have so many questions how do I stop from being seems so overwhelming?!”
Don’t worry, we know it’s a lot and I’m writing this post to help break it all down. Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor or psychiatrist and I am unable to prescribe medication. However, I do help my clients identify symptoms and side effects on a regular basis. Those taking the medication should speak directly to their prescriber with any further questions.
First, a common first question I’m asked is, “How do I know if I need medication?” This is a great starter question, because you’re already thinking about how medication may or may not be the right path for you. Don’t always assume medicine is the ONLY answer, it is only one solution to consider.
I typically ask is, “Are your symptoms severe enough that they are interfering with your daily living?” That can mean a lot of things, but typically the follow up questions are:
“Can you attend work or school regularly?”
“Are you able to maintain a social life with family and friends?”
“Are there any physical impairments, sleep disturbance, and/or weight loss/gain?”
“Do you have thoughts of harming yourself or others?”
If your answer to the first two follow up questions are “no,” and the rest are “yes,” I would recommend seeking a psychiatric evaluation to assist the client in identifying if they are a good candidate for psychiatric medication.
That being said, a psychiatric evaluation does not necessarily mean that you need to begin taking psychotropic medication. It only means you are seeking the education necessary to making an informed decision. Prior to your first visit, you will need to gather your medical and psychiatric history to provide the doctor with as much information as possible. You may also want to write down questions you may have and any concerns.
Walking into the doctor’s office can often be intimidating. I recommend always advocating for yourself or bringing someone like an Easterseals New Jersey Case Manager along for support. After your first visit, it doesn’t mean you need to start taking any medication. You can take the time to process the information learned prior to making a decision. You can do additional research online and discuss your concerns with a trusted support system such as your therapist, family and/or friends.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, there are 5 common types of psychiatric medication: antidepressants, anti-anxiety, stimulants, anti-psychotics, and mood stabilizers. They all effect the body and mind differently, so if you are prescribed any of these, be sure to talk through what to expect with your doctor.
So, let’s say you made the decision to take medication. Now what? How are you going to set yourself up to maximize your chances for success? Here are some quick tips to get you started:
-Bring all medications that you are currently taking to your pharmacy, including OTC (over the counter), and holistic medication e.g. essential oils. This can often reduce any potential overdose dangers and save you from any unwanted side effects.
– Buy a pill box and schedule a time every week to sort out all your pills per week or monthly.
– Have the pharmacy provide you with a printout of all medications with dosages and frequency, allergy and food interaction information.
– Keep a journal. This comes in handy so you can jot down any side affects you may be experiencing so that you can bring this up at your next appointment or any concerns you may have.
– MEDICATION COMPLIANCE- This is one of the most important tips I can give you. Sometimes you may start to feel “different” or experience unpleasant side effects such as: insomnia, vivid dreams, weight gain/loss. Please contact your doctor before discontinuing medication, as this can often halt desired results. Some medications have what the FDA calls a “Black Box Warning.” It appears on a prescription drug’s label and is designed to call attention to serious or life-threatening risks. Call your doctor or 911 immediately if you experience any of the black box symptoms.
How do I know if my medication is working?
This is most likely the next most important question someone may ask. Some medications work relatively quickly to manage a sudden onset of symptoms such as an anxiety attack. Other medications can take up to 4-6 weeks to show signs of improvement. Therefore it’s important to keep track of your medication, symptoms and side effects, follow-up regularly with your doctor, and adhere to medication compliance. Everyone will have a different definition of “success” when it comes to using medication. The key is to talk with your doctor and identify what your expectations are and how you can identify that these expectations are being satisfied or not.
Keep in mind that you are not alone. The JAMA Internal Medicine reports that “About one in six U.S. adults reported taking one or more psychiatric drugs in 2013, and many report long-term use.” Consider other therapies alongside your medication regimen such as therapy, exercise, holistic therapies, and support from family and friends to assist you on your mental health wellness journey. Your health and wellness are at the forefront of your success.
About the Author:
Martha Wolfe, License Marriage and Family Therapist