Two Ways to Take Psychiatric Medication
By Esther Smith
Perhaps you have asked yourself some form of the following question.
Should I take medicine for my depression? For my anxiety? For the intense mood swings that just won’t go away?
Choosing whether or not to take medication in these situations can be a difficult decision. Perhaps you have concerns about side effects. Maybe you wonder what your family and friends will think, or feel like you should be able manage life without a prescription. These are all very common concerns.
Let me present just one way of looking at this question of meds or no meds.
At my job in an out-patient mental health clinic, most of my clients take medicine for a wide range of mental health issues. For those individuals that find relief from their prescriptions, I typically see them respond in one of two ways.
Psychiatric medication either becomes the mask that covers symptoms and enables them to ignore underlying issues, or it creates a context in which healing can more easily occur.
Masking the Symptoms and Ignoring Underlying Issues
Consider an individual I met with who I will call Jessica. Jessica struggled with depression and anxiety that stemmed from a difficult childhood. Jessica’s parents were addicts, and as Jessica entered adulthood she maintained a deep resentment towards her mother for not caring for her as a child.
During our first few sessions, Jessica was highly motivated to talk through these issues. She wanted to discuss how to improve her family relationships and how to forgive her mother. She wanted to consider how her past impacted her today and explore her own shortcomings in how she related to her parents.
But then Jessica started taking anti-anxiety medication. Suddenly her approach to counseling changed from motivated to completely uninterested. Why? The medicine had worked! She no longer felt anxious. She felt calm around her mother, not because she had worked through their issues, but because the medicine numbed her to the point that the she was unaffected when her mother tried to aggravate her or start a fight.
Medicine had covered her symptoms, and while it was providing much needed relief, it was also impeding her growth. Now that she felt better, she had no interested in wading back through her struggles and shortcomings that medicine was enabling her to ignore.
Creating a Context for Healing
Compare Jessica’s response to another individual who I will call Bethany. Bethany experienced panic attacks that would last for hours on end until she went to the emergency room for psychiatric care. During her panic attacks she was unable to sleep, work, or eat. Panic attacks were consuming her life.
During our first few conversations, Bethany was unable to focus. She was visibly anxious, fidgeted in her seat, and avoided many topics for fear they would trigger a panic attack. As much as I wanted to help her and as much as she wanted help, it was impossible to move forward when she couldn’t hold a normal conversation.
One day Bethany walked into my office carrying a sense of visible calm. Just like Jessica, she had started taking anti-anxiety medication, and it was having a powerful effect. Her panic attacks were less frequent and much shorter. Her generalized anxiety throughout the day had calmed. She was sleeping, working, and eating. Sweet relief.
From that session forward, Bethany dove into counseling. She made connections between her traumatic past and current actions. She began taking responsibility for her responses to others, when before she claimed that her anxiety controlled her. Before she felt physically unable to pray because the anxiety prevented her from concentrating, but now she was actively calling out to God in times of distress. Each week, Bethany took specific action steps towards healing that would have been impossible if medicine had not tempered her pain and created a context for growth and change.
If You Took Medication, How Would You Move Forward?
How you move forward if you decide to take medication is a more important decision than whether or not you decide to take medication in the first place. It’s OK to take medicine because you want relief from your symptoms. It’s OK to want to feel better and have a better quality of life. But once you feel better, once the symptoms have been controlled, what would you do next?
When used wisely, medicine can be a great gift from God that allows us to hear him, see him, and respond to him more clearly. When some of our suffering is lifted, we are more equipped to pray, read Scripture, and receive help from others. We are more equipped to think logically, trust when all is unknown, and process the deeper heart issues that led us here in the first place. For some people, psychiatric medication can be that means by which their suffering is lifted, creating a path forward.
If you decide to take medicine for the sake of your mental health and emotional well-being, consider these questions.
Is merely easing the symptoms enough for you? Or, could medicine be the means by which God eases your suffering so that you are better positioned to hear his voice and follow his will for your life?
Esther Smith is one of our counselors. Her areas of interest and experience include teens, young adults, women’s issues, and working with individuals touched by anxiety, trauma, chronic illness, and suffering.