Thursday, 15 September 2016

A High-Five to Mental Health Meds, Therapy and Inpatient Care

In the past few weeks I've seen several documentaries go past about anti-depressants and "how damaging they are" and "natural remedies" and such. I want to talk a little bit about this; because each time a new hashtag for one of these documentaries go past I have to see desperate tweets from so many people saying "please don't go cold turkey without your doctor" and "don't rule out anti-depressants!!".

So here's the deal - I was in a mental health unit for 3 months last winter. The majority of patients on the ward were placed on some form of medication, whether that be simply melatonin for sleep, a small dose SSRI, or even something more heavy duty if needed. Each patient was put on something completely tailored to them and monitored. We were all warned about side effects, we all KNEW what we were putting in our bodies.

In inpatient care, and I think some people have it outpatient too (though I don't), we also had something that's called PRN. This stands for "pro re nata" in Latin, and is essentially a very small dose of something to calm the system if needed. For most, this was promethezine, an anti-histamine with calming properties. I'm not being over-dramatic when I say that this essentially saved lives, because even on an extremely safe ward, bad incidents happened.

Personally, I was put on a medication that isn't actually an official anti-anxiety med, because I reacted badly to one; instead I was placed on a mood stabiliser which does the same job. Because of my previous reaction to a med, I was very closely monitored and the dose was put up even slower than normal. I got to the right dose to keep my anxiety down, and then we fiddled with the doses at morning/night because I was getting drowsy. I am still on this medication now, because it keeps me at a functioning point. However, we are beginning to look at a decrease now that I am functioning better - a slow one, because the reason you shouldn't go cold turkey on these meds is because the brain needs to get used to it. Withdrawal will not kill you.

I take these medications alongside two types of therapy. I do not take these medications as a simple way out of trying to deal with my conditions. Yes, I completely understand the stance that therapies and other methods should be tried before jumping straight to medications and I personally agree with that. If you are offered therapy for free or can afford it? PLEASE take it. I was SO cynical before my first CAMHS appointment due to some horror stories. My CAMHS psychologist is the best therapist I've had (and I've had quite a few!).

It is also worth referring back to the inpatient care at this point. They didn't just put us on meds and leave us to it, we had a very intense therapy schedule to try and get us back up to a functioning point. Individually, we were offered family and occupational therapy, psychology and 1-2-1s with staff. As a group, we had art therapy, drama therapy, Dialectal Behavioural Therapy, relaxation and psychology group.

But for a lot of us, our meds were what allowed us to take part in those and take them on board. It is all well and good having therapies, but if your brain isn't in a place where it can use them effectively, it is all pointless.

I colour when I am anxious. I use mediation apps for sleeping and SOS points. I have weekly therapy. I have systems in place at school. But my meds make my mind clearer. I was never forced to take them. I was with my doctors every step of the way. They were never the first resort, they were put in place several years after I started having therapy. 

I urge you: if you are suffering, please please please don't be put off mental-health medications simply because of these documentaries or the stigmas around them. They may not be right for you, but they could be, even if just for a short period of time (disclaimer, short being 6 months, not 2 weeks) so you can have a therapy and use it efficiently.  These meds aren't dangerous, okay? One may work better for you than another, like me with my reaction, but there is more than one type. 

Like everything, it is all a balance. For me personally, I don't think meds or therapy would have worked on their own. We found a balance, and so can you.

Just please, don't discount any of the options, whether that be being cynical about therapy or scared by meds. Go and talk to your doctor - they know best, not some documentary.