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This can be such a big question for so many people when they find themselves sturggling.

First of all I just want to clarify that Psychologists don’t prescribe medication. In Canada that role is reserved only for those with a medical degree: usually your doctor or a psychiatrist. 

A psychologist can help you work through your thoughts and feelings related to ideas around taking medication but cannot provide advice/recommendations on medications and potential side effects.

On occasion I have had people assume  that because I take a holistic approach to healing that I would also be against any form of medication. But for me taking a holistic approach means addressing mind, spirit and body, and this can mean that medication may be a helpful part of an overall treatment plan.

My aim is always to support clients in making their own informed choices about what is best for them.

When exploring your own thoughts and feelings regarding medication here are some of the areas that are important to consider: 

Instead of thinking of the choice to incorporate medication into an overall treatment plan as a one time, final decision I advise my clients to think of it more as an informed and careful experiment. A journey you enter into with a trusted health professional(s) where both you and your health care team are monitoring any potential positive and negative effects. 

Finding the right medication and right dosage where you notice more positive side effects than negative side effects can be a journey and it is important to trust those who are a part of your care. 

I have seen people experience scary side effects.

I have seen not much change. 

I have seen medication work wonders for people. 

No one can know in advance what your journey with medication may or may not look like. 

If you are uncomfortable bringing up your concerns with your doctor it could be helpful to have your therapist or other trusted health professional consult and advocate on your behalf (only with your permission as to what information will be shared) or to find someone who you are comfortable working with.

With the consent of my clients I have helped to provide support in facilitating this conversation and potential options with their doctor or health care provider.

Here are some of the most common concerns that can  stop people from considering medication:

Fear of becoming dependant on medication: From my experience this is one of the most common concerns. Fair enough. I think I get where this fear is coming from for a lot of people. There is a worry that taking pills is covering the larger issues and that it may help but that  one will become dependant and need medication for the rest of their life. And some concerns do require medication management for the longer term, yet this is not always the case. 

What I talk with my clients about regarding fears of becoming dependant on medication is that the goal for many people is to not require medication. Yet there are times where medication can actually help to achieve this goal in the long run. Outcome studies have shown that for significant anxiety and depression medication in combination with therapy is more effective than either alone. One of the important differences I have seen in clients who successfully transition from medication is that if there are situational factors at play they take steps to also actually address these concerns and to gain new coping skills and strategies and to make changes in their life. If you have been in therapy and are not seeing the changes you had hoped for medication can be a helpful combination. 

One of my teachers explained medication this way for treating mental health concerns: it is like if you break your leg and you get a cast to help it heal. No one likes wearing a cast, it can be clunky, annoying and get in the way. But without the cast the injury does not heal properly. It creates more complications in the long run. Wearing the cast until the healing is complete is essential to proper healing and to living without the cast again. 

Fear that it will not help or will make things worse

Both of these fears are a possibility. However it tends to be more of a rare event for medication to make things worse. This is why it is important that the decision to consider medication is not an all-or-none choice but is approached as a journey you embark on with the help of your health care team. 

It can be important to approach the medication journey as an experiment and to keep note of the benefits as well as the costs that you notice. It is also important to have an idea of what to anticipate on the journey with your doctor in terms of how long it should take to start to notice an improvement. If things feel like they are getting worse and especially if you notice a start or increase in suicidal thoughts contact your health care professional right away. 

Wondering if things are really ‘that bad’ to need medication 

Perhaps things could get worse, but do you really want that? Like most physical health conditions, mental health conditions are most often easier to treat and respond more quickly when they have not become long standing patterns that have not been addressed for years. I think the more important question is could medication be a helpful part of an overall treatment plan? And because most of us tend to be our own toughest critic it can also be helpful to ask  ourselves if a friend or family member was feeling this way would we judge them for considering medication? 

Worry that it will change who you are:

Medication should not change who you are. And the hard truth of the matter is that mental health challenges such as Depression, Anxiety, Trauma and other concerns do have a very real impact on our ability to show up in the world as our authentic selves. You are not your Depression/Anxiety/Mental Health concern. Treating mental health concerns is about restoring your ability to connect with who you really are. 

Stigma around mental health concerns:

There has been positive movement towards the destigmatization of mental health concerns, yet there is still work to be done. At the end of the day the decision to consider medication is a personal one and it is up to you who you wish to inform or not inform of your choice. In most cases, if you are uncomfortable with others knowing you are taking medication you can choose not to share this information. 

Potential impact on health insurance: In my experience this one is often the least talked about or considered but the potential impact is real and is a matter of concern. It is important to check any health/life insurance policies you may have and their policies around coverage if you do decide to try medication. Some policies will not cover your family in the event of your death if you were taking antidepressants. To be clear I strongly do not agree with such policies. I think it creates a barrier to accessing treatment and that treating mental health concerns is far better than not. Yet I also believe in the importance of making a fully informed decision. This may involve looking at all options, including alternatives to medication, alternative diagnosis that do not impact any plan you may have or potentially researching your options for insurance coverage to find the best fit for you and your family  

My hope is that these reflections and common questions and concerns can assist you or your loved ones in their own mental health journey. 

If you have any questions/comments please let me know.

If you are interested in connecting a reminder that I do offer an initial complementary consultation call (for those in Alberta), contact me today and we can set this up.