Today I would like to address six common concerns that most people have about psychiatric treatment. For any psychiatric condition, major or minor, there are two main treatment modalities available. There is pharmacotherapy, which involves prescribing medicines and then there is psychotherapy where counseling is done tailored to the need of the individual and his family. When it comes to medication, here are the questions people most commonly ask.
1. Why do I need medicines?
I can explain the basic reason behind prescribing medicines for psychiatric problems better by comparing it to how medicines work in patients suffering from diabetes. Diabetes is caused due to the deficiency or inefficiency of insulin in the body and the medicines help by restoring its proper function to keep the blood sugar levels in moderation. Similarly, all psychiatric disorders are caused due to neurochemical imbalances in the brain, and psychotropic medicines correct this imbalance leading to profound improvement.
2. What are the side effects?
Now many people are apprehensive about any harm that they think can occur to them if they use psychotropic medicines. In honesty, all medicines have side effects; even the commonly used painkillers can cause gastric irritation if used excessively. Psychotropic medications if used in the correct dose and for the correct duration rarely cause any harm. Many of their so-called side effects are temporary which go away with time, others can be easily corrected by the doctor by making subtle changes to the regimen. Regardless, the most important thing to remember here is that the desired effects of the medicines far outweigh the side effects that may occur in a minority of people.
3. But doesn’t google mention several dangerous side effects?
Google has been a boon to mankind in many ways. Most people find the location of my clinic using google for which I am grateful it. However, it is not perfect. People have the liberty to post whatever they like on the internet and there is no way to verify the authenticity of the material. When it comes to medical knowledge, it's always better to talk to your psychiatrist about any doubts you might have and not call Mr. Google. Do we always check the recipe of a dish on google when we go out to eat or just let the chef do his cooking? It’s the same here.
4. How long should I continue the medicines?
Now, this is a tricky one. Psychotropic medicines take some time to work. One has to take the medicines as prescribed for at least 2 to 3weeks for any significant change to be appreciated. They are not like painkillers that cure one’s headache in 30 mins or less. Once initiated it's common to continue the medicines for anywhere from 6 months to a year depending upon the disorder and the presence of stressors in life. For severe psychiatric disorders, medicines may have to be continued for one’s lifetime if needed. But isn’t that the case with diseases like hypertension and diabetes too? Instead of getting unnecessarily scared, it’s important to remember that the correct treatment can make a significant difference in improving the quality of life of an individual with a psychiatric disorder.
5. But I am feeling fine now. Can I stop the medicines at will?
Again, psychotropic medicines if stopped all of a sudden can lead to withdrawal symptoms and also the primary disorder may get worsened all of a sudden eradicating any improvements previously achieved. The doctor has to taper the dose gradually watching out for any mood or behavioral changes throughout to successfully execute the process.
6. Will I get addicted to medicines?
This is the most important one. Most people shy away from using psychotropic medicines as they fear they will get dependent on them and won’t be able to live a fulfilling life without their support. Addiction occurs when one needs progressively larger doses of a drug to achieve similar effects. That isn’t the case with most psychotropic medicines. They can be gradually tapered and stopped by the physician as and when it’s necessary. The few medicines that do have addiction potential are carefully used in doses and for durations that don’t lead to dependence in most cases if taken as prescribed.
7. Am I psychologically weak if I need medicines to get well?
A psychiatric disorder is just like any other physical malady that afflicts the body. The mind and the body are intricately interconnected. One continuously affects the other positively or negatively. Taking pain medication for a broken bone doesn’t mean one’s bones are weak. It just means that some great external force had impacted the bone resulting in its fracture. The same goes for psychiatric disorders. Stressors in the world can sometimes overpower our ability to cope and accepting any help from medicines to get us back on track should be encouraged and appreciated.
Contact your doctors whenever you require. They will be glad to help.