Psychiatric medication (or psychoactive drugs) refers to the drugs that are used to help people living with mental health disorders, often for those who respond little to therapy and counselling. These drugs are built to act on the chemical makeup of the brain and the nervous system.
In current times, the use of psychiatric medication is not as sparse as it once was. While there is inadequate data for India, a US study in 2013 revealed that one in six Americans was consuming psychiatric drugs, such as antidepressants and sedatives.
The World Health Organisation claims that one in four people globally is likely to suffer from some mental health condition by 2020, with major depressive disorder estimated to be second-most widespread.
In this scenario, there should be more information and less stigma about both mental health disorders and psychiatric medication, which is sadly not the case.
Numerous myths surround the use of psychoactive drugs for treating mental disorders, all of which are debunked by facts.
1. MYTH – Drugs will cure me as soon as I ingest them
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FACT: Food can remedy hunger instantaneously, but the same cannot be said about drugs and disorders. Quick-acting drugs like antidepressants take about six hours to kick in. Some drugs bring lasting change as well as prevent relapses, so they need to be taken regularly over time.
It is possible that the ineffectiveness of dosage is realised after four to six weeks of consumption. In some cases, it is after many attempts that a medication that suits the person’s diagnosis and neurochemistry is found.
More patience is required when using psychiatric drugs than when popping a Crocin.
2. MYTH – I can discontinue my medication when I feel better
FACT: Even if people start feeling better, it is recommended that they continue the medication through the time prescribed. Stopping medication too soon can lead to a relapse of the disorder or of its symptoms. It is better to let the change stabilise before going off drugs.
3. MYTH – I can take my medication at any time during the day or at night
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FACT: When it comes to psychotropic medication, your doctors are bound to know better than you do. Specific directions are given for drug intake because the time of ingestion has a direct impact on drug levels in the bloodstream. It is important to achieve certain drug-blood levels for the alleviation of symptoms. Therefore, it is better to take medication as has been directed by your doctor.
4. MYTH – I will become addicted to my medicines
FACT: Only some sleep medications and benzodiazepam tranquilisers (a class of psychoactive drugs) can cause our bodies to develop tolerance, wherein we need more to feel a substantial effect; or dependency, which causes withdrawal symptoms when one goes off the drug.
However, antidepressant, mood-stabilising, or antipsychotic medications are not addictive. Addiction can be prevented or handled if medication is taken only as guided by the doctor. Self-medication can be detrimental.
5. MYTH – It’s better to live with my symptoms than deal with the side-effects of medication
FACT: While side-effects may feel scary, they should not be the reason you deny treatment.
As your body gets accustomed to the new chemicals, there may be instances of dizziness, drowsiness, dry mouth and nausea. But these taper off within days. Weight gain is also a concern among people who are on prescription drugs. Serotonin reuptake inhibitors, taken for depression and anxiety, can affect libido (sex drive).
However, after advice from your doctor, you can engage in exercise, and seek a readjustment of the time of administration and dose of the drug to mitigate these side-effects.
6. MYTH – I need medication because I am weak
FACT: There is no weakness in seeking help for mental well-being. In fact, it is an act of bravery to accept your illness and work towards improving it.
Since visiting a doctor for flu or jaundice is considered normal, why should you not visit an expert and take medicines for the health of your mind?
Due to the fear of stigma, people sometimes take the prescription from a friend or relative, hoping to be cured of their own illness. But even if your condition shows symptoms similar to theirs, you may need to be treated differently, have other conditions, or even require a different dosage than them.
Each body and brain is unique and needs to be treated differently. Patience and trial-and-error are the best ways to find the medication that will work for you.
Further, wherever medication fails to help with environmental stressors or cannot change the course of life events, it can ensure that the distressing symptoms remain under control so that people can actively seek therapy and support groups to bring out their best.
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Written by Shivangi Singh, for The MINDS Foundation.