woman holding a handful of medication tablets. Text reads: 32 things about taking medication for mental illness people don't talk about.

32 Things About Taking Medication for Mental Illness People Don't Talk About

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Editor’s note: This piece is based on the experience of individuals, and shouldn’t be taken as medical advice. Please consult a doctor before going on or off any medication.

We know you shouldn’t be ashamed of taking medication for a mental illness. We know it doesn’t make you weak. We know it’s a treatment option a lot of people find beneficial, while others don’t. It’s a choice, an option and it’s just as valid as taking medication for any other illness.

But let’s get real: What are some of the things about taking psychiatric medication we don’t talk about?

Prescribing medication for our brain is far from a perfect process, and while we want to spread the word that it shouldn’t be shameful, it’s also important to acknowledge the complications that come with the process.

So, we asked our mental health community to share one thing about taking psychiatric medication people don’t talk about.

Let’s talk about it. Here’s what they had to say:

1. “They don’t tell you a medicine might work for a while, maybe a year, then suddenly it can stop, and you’ll have to start all over again and find a new medicine. Then it could take months to find another that works.”

2. “What I take doesn’t cure my illness. I am not ‘all better.’ Does it help? Yes, absolutely. Am a better? Yes, a bit. Does that mean I’m OK, back to normal and no longer struggling? Not at all. Not even close. No. So why do I take it? The little bit it does help is a lifeline I can’t do without.”

3. “It’s OK to take medication! Don’t let stigma scare you into not taking them. That’s the only thing I wish someone explained to me beforehand.”

4. “They don’t talk about what it’s like coming off a medication. Whether it’s coming off completely or coming off to start on a new medication, both instances leaves us so incredibly fragile. Our entire brain chemistry is being altered in a way we haven’t experienced in a long time, if ever. No one talks about all the trial-and-error it takes to find the right medication and the complete mental agony that goes along with that process. The fear of not being able to trust your own mind. The uncomfortable feeling of needing to precisely articulate your feelings to your doctor, therapist, psychiatrist, etc., when you’re not even sure what it is you are actually feeling. No one talks about how hard it is to function on a daily level while going through all of this. The amount of time that needs to be taken off from work to visit all said doctors listed above. The interference it causes in driving, speaking without forgetting words or getting confused, and being available for all of those around us that need us. And no one, no one, talks about how we are treated by EMTs, police officers and other emergency personnel when in a crisis situation.”

5. “It takes time to find what works best for you. The frustration of getting through side effects when you already don’t feel well. And then the possibility that it will stop working after awhile, so you start the cycle over again.”

6. “It’s missing just one single dose of my medication and going on a downward spiral. Like I am on an out-of-control roller coaster I can’t get off of. I know I’m out of control, but there is nothing I can do to stop it.”

7. “Medication alone won’t work. You must be diligent in pampering yourself. Go for massages, take vitamins, naps, exercise, yoga, plan time with friends, find a good therapist. And most of all remember there still may be bad days, but do not give up!”

8. “They aren’t ‘happy pills’ and a quick fix as some people think, like once you start taking medication you are going to turn into this really happy person all the time! It just helps me cope and I still have bad days, but I have more motivation and the fog has lifted a bit.”

9. “I think the fact that medication can be life-saving should be highlighted more than ever.”

10. “It takes time to find the right meds and doses. There are side effects that make you think meds are worse than the mental disorder. However, there will be many more days that you feel ‘normal,’ which will make everything worth it. Hang in there, and seek the help you need.”

11. “They don’t talk about how hard it is to find a psychiatrist who works for you and how you shouldn’t settle for one you don’t feel comfortable with just because they have a license to practice. I had one recommend drinking milk and eating turkey as a natural remedy for depression… I’m lactose intolerant, and overeating is one of my primary concerns. He also didn’t think explaining to me the side effects of medication was important. It is important for me because certain side effects can have a negative impact on my day-to-day life.”

12. “My medication limits me from being a ‘normal’ college student because I can’t always drink or stay out late, and people don’t understand why a lot of the time.”

13. “Therapy paired with your medication is important. Your medication can carry you through the worst days and help manage your symptoms, but it’s still up to you to put in the time and effort to be OK.”

14. “It’s OK and almost always necessary to try new medications when you know one isn’t working for you. Not everyone can take the same medication and be OK with it.”

15. “Medication is nothing to be ashamed of. You don’t tell a person with an ear infection not to take their meds because they are strong enough to overcome the infection. Mental illness may not be entirely understood, but it doesn’t mean it’s not real and necessary to be treated.”

16. “Medication can sometimes not be prescribed in an Rx bottle and can range from supplements to medical marijuana. There is something out there for everyone.”

17. “I was so embarrassed to take medication, and now I regret not taking it sooner! The initial side effects were unusual, but they’ve subsided now. It isn’t a miracle cure, definitely not, but it gives you a little nudge in the right direction so you can continue! I actually started my tablets this day last year, and the difference everyone has noticed is like night and day. I have bad days but… everyone does!”

18. “If you have a negative side effect you cannot or will not tolerate, don’t let your doctor ignore it, but don’t stop taking your medication without your doctor’s approval.”

19. “I always knew the stigma with mental health medication comes from all different types of people, but no one warned me I would face stigma from health care professionals.”

20. “People don’t talk about how hard it is to come off them — the physical side effects like chronic pain and dizziness and mental side effects like confusion and extreme mood swings.”

21. “Doctors need to be honest about how long the medication may take to work. Don’t say a week or two when truthfully it may take four weeks or more. Stop belittling the initial side effects. Tell your patients the good, the bad, and the ugly. So many people quit before the meds start working because it can be hell for a month. Strap on your boots and get ready for a potentially bumpy road, but you may just come out the other side and get your life back!”

22. “You’re not told about how to speak to others about it. You’re not told how to explain to everyone outside of your inner circle you really aren’t ‘crazy’ and that you need your medication to survive. You’re not told how to explain it to others so it makes sense to them. You’re not told how to tell people you’re really not a junkie and that you ‘pop pills’ all day so you can function like a ‘normal’ human being. You’re not told how to explain to people that you can’t ‘just be happy’ and that you can’t ‘just stop taking your meds.’ I was however told by my doctor that some people need medication and that it’s OK to be in that situation.”

23. “For people who absolutely need the meds for life, there will usually be that beginning battle of ‘I don’t need medicine, this is mental, I can fix it on my own.’ Stigma will often exacerbate those thoughts. I went on and off medicine for several years before I realized this is a disorder and I need the medicine to help it.”

24. “The difficulty reaching orgasm is one of my most stressful side effects, but is often seen as too ‘taboo’ to talk about. I put up with it for almost a year but couldn’t take it anymore so asked to be put on a different one. It’s definitely a vast improvement.”

25. “Actually, I think it should come with an extra instruction inside the box: for our loved ones to read — the ones who assume because you’re now taking tablets, you should have it together all the time, so there are no ‘excuses’ for not doing stuff. These extra instructions should come with advice on how to pick up your loved ones from the bottom of the well and not tell them ‘you have to try and control it. You’re making yourself ill.’ Also, the instructions should tell them it’s OK if they don’t know what to do, or to say, to help us feel better. A hug and a loving kiss on the top of our head or holding our hand tight while looking into look our eyes is what we need most of the time.”

26. “People don’t discuss the fact that medication isn’t always a cure. It doesn’t make life rainbows and butterflies. It doesn’t turn things around in a matter of minutes. It doesn’t erase scars. It doesn’t clear the memory banks. It doesn’t heal the broken trust or mend the broken hearts. Medication provides the means to allow these things to take place. It is the mediator, not the hero!”

27. “They don’t talk about the fact that some people aren’t helped by medication currently available. No one will admit to me that despite trying a ridiculous number of medications over the past 14 years, none have worked for an extended period of time. In the meantime you get to experience the side effects and/or withdrawal effects.”

28. “I wish someone would have told me how long it takes to find just the right medication, dosage and possible combination with other medications. For me, it took six years to find a medication that did everything I needed without having significant side effects. If you have a mental illness and you had a bad experience with medication, don’t give up hope. It’s like dating. There will be pills that are total losers, pills that make you feel great sometimes and awful other times, pills that are OK but leave you feeling bored and lethargic… every combination. But once you find the one, it will make it all worth it. Trust me.”

29. “It’s not a quick fix, and it may take years of trying, but you’re worth it. You will need to be your own best advocate and do research and more research. And what works one month may need to be tweaked the next. Don’t rule out things like full-spectrum light therapy or yoga or alternative therapies and support groups in conjunction with medicine either.”

30. “It doesn’t matter how many times you hear, ‘a diabetic doesn’t feel ashamed they need insulin so people with depression who need antidepressants shouldn’t feel ashamed either’ — something you still feel defective and like a failure because you need antidepressants, as evidenced by your symptoms when you forget or don’t take one of your so-called ‘happy pills.’ When I forget a dose, my mood changes within 12 hours — I feel intensely sleepy or lethargic, my head spins like there is a swarm of bees in it, my head feels like it will explode and I have trouble thinking straight. It takes several days to get back to normal — all because I was late with one freaking tablet. Life on meds isn’t ‘normal’ or ‘perfect,’ but it’s a much better normal than life not on meds.”

31. “Medications have improved my life so greatly. But it’s taken so much tweaking of them to get me to this point. Another aspect you need to remember is that medicine can’t cure depression, only helps. My best medicine is talking. Know you’re not alone. Try to be the light of someone’s day, even when you’re feeling rotten. The smallest things make the biggest difference. Stay strong everyone, you got this.”

32. “After years of sorting through different medications to find the right one for me, I think I’ve finally got it now. And it’s like coming up for a breath of fresh air. It’s like feeling the sunlight for the first time. It’s the freedom of not having a dark cloud hang over me all day. Yeah, sorting through different meds and experiencing horrible side effects is such a long and unbearable process. But when you finally are able to breath again and feel normal… that is what it’s all about! I haven’t felt this good in a long time.”

*Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.



32 Things About Taking Medication for Mental Illness People Don't Talk About
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To the Loved One of a Person With a Mental Illness, Do You Really Get It?

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The mental health articles I always post are for you, the one who calls me friend. They are for you, the one who calls me wife, mom, daughter, granddaughter, sister, niece, and cousin.

I post informative articles because I’m thinking of you. I try to remember you have feelings too. I try to remember my mental illness affects you too, so I take the opportunity to post these articles in hopes they will explain why I do the things I do and why I am who I am. I post articles to inform you because sometimes a lack of knowledge causes you to say and do things, that in my opinion, are hurtful.

A couple of the things you should know:

1. Ignoring your phone call is not a personal attack, but I can see how someone would view it as such.

When you call me and I don’t answer the phone, sorry, I am not sorry. I don’t do it because I don’t like you or I’m mad at you or I’m ignoring you. I do it because at that moment, in that time, I need to be left alone in a quiet enviorment. I cannot function on the phone because I don’t have the energy to express myself. Pretending to be upbeat and happy while using a pleasent tone on the phone causes my anxiety to skyrocket. I don’t have the patience. In that moment, I can’t focus on anyone else’s problems. I’m trying to focus on my problems. I’m trying to focus on getting me better. I certainly don’t have my listening ears on. A phone call takes a lot of work. You have to listen and respond immediately. However, while texting, I can read what you have to say and when I feel like it, I can respond. Because with a text I don’t really have to laugh, I just write, “LOL.” With a text you don’t have to hear happiness in my voice. I can just send you an emoji.

2. When I cancel plans it is not a personal attack, but again, I could see how some would find this hurtful.

When I decide at the last moment not to do something with you, it’s not because I don’t want to. I’ve wanted to the whole time. I’ve been so excited. I’ve talked about it over and over. Then the moment arrives and decisions have to be made: How much time is enough time for me to get ready? How should I wear my hair? What should I wear? What if we run into people we know? What if I have to do more talking than what I want? What if I feel rushed? What if I feel nervous? What if my stomach starts to hurt? What if my breathing starts to become excessive? What if my anxiety feels out of control? What if I get angry and blow up in front of people I don’t know? The list goes on and on. My brain tells me I can’t, and then my body shuts down, so I reluctantly let you know I can’t go.

3. “Down-playing” my situation, considering me to be well or ignoring my illness make me feel like my illness isn’t legitimate.

You have to stop acting like I’m not sick. You have to stop acting like my illness is not a real illness. You have to stop telling me to “just get over it.” You have to stop making me think it’s all in my head. You have to stop thinking that just because it’s the brain, I should be able to control it. You have to stop assuming that reading God’s word and being a better Christian is going to make my illness go away. However, make no mistake that I do understand having a relationship with God is a top priority for me.

The brain is just as susceptible to injury as any other part of your body is, external or internal. The brain is just as susceptible to an imbalance as any other part of your body is. If one organ, whether it be your pancreas, liver, lung, etc., is susceptible to illness, then so is your brain.

With that being said, my brain is not working, and I have to take medicine. I can’t will myself to not have a mental illness as much as you and I both would love for me to be able to. I can’t get rid of my mental illness by being a better Christian. I can’t ignore my mental illness and wait for it to go away because it will consume me and possibly kill me.

The best way to help me and others with mental illnesses is to get educated! Educate yourself on my mental illness, on all mental illnesses. Open your heart and your mind. Stop the mental health stigma. Stop trying to “cure” us. We have doctors for that. The best way to show us you’re concerned and you love us is to love us through our illnesses, love us when we are unlovable, love us when no one else will.

Allow me to reiterate the things you can do for us:

1. Educate yourself.

2. Stop stigma.

3.Know you can’t cure us.

4. Love us.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

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Woman screaming

What I Want You to Hear in My Whispered Screams

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I’ve screamed at you for the past week. At you, my friends who face similar demons, who have come to me for help, who have held my hand and loved me unconditionally. I have screamed at you and you haven’t heard.

But it’s not your fault my screams come out as whispers.

I scream at you when I send the group text: “Let’s go stargazing.” When I call you and ask if you are doing anything tonight. When you ask what I’m thinking and I tell you “I’m just bored” or “It’s been a long day and I need people I can talk to.”

You don’t question these answers. It’s not in your nature. You have accepted these answers for as long as you’ve known me. They are common answers, even when I’m not screaming.

But tonight I am screaming at you. Because I know I will not go up the stairs and tell my mom I want to hurt myself again. I know I will not call a helpline or find someone online to help me. I am screaming at you because I want your attention, but I don’t know how to get it.

I have never learned how to assert myself and put my needs before the needs of others. I have never learned it is OK to tell you how I am feeling. I have never learned you will not judge me, belittle me or tell me I am wrong. I have never learned I am a whole person with feelings that are valid and real.

Between my former, abusive friendship where my feelings were always wrong and the anxiety that told me I was just overreacting, I never quite learned how to scream louder than a whisper.

So I’m writing this instead. Hoping someone’s friend will realize they are screaming in a whisper, because I can’t be the only one who does this.

In short texts and impulsive, unusual plans, I scream. I need your help during this time because I will never look you in the eye and tell you what’s going on. Because I have never learned to let another person outside of the family I grew up with love me, and allowed them to break down every wall between me and my demons. I have never learned people do not want to hurt me and turn against me when they get close enough.

But still I scream at you because right now, you are the only one I hope will hear my whispered screams.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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Why Churches Need an Education on Mental Health

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My Christian faith has always been a big part of my life starting from when I was young. I was sent to Catholic school and raised in a liberal but faith-filled family. My faith has always been something I turned to during my dark moments with depression and physical illness.

I remember a time when I had taken a break from “formal church” and felt very isolated and disconnected. I started to seek out connection within faith communities. I thought it would help me feel better, but it did not. It had the opposite effect. I realized many churches and their pastors are not equipped to deal with things like mental illness.

I approached a pastor from a local church and told him my story and asked if he would be open to letting me start a support group for people with mental illness. Not only did he tell me he did not believe I was depressed, he blew me off and shooed me away.

After I regrouped and got over my disappointment, I tried another church. This time I was looked at as if mental illness wasn’t real or something that belonged in church.  I was given the run around from one person to the next who politely refused to engage in any sort of conversation. It was clearly not a priority to the leadership.

“One more time,” I thought. I figured this time I would blend in. I found another church. I showed up for healing services and liturgies. I even volunteered for a few ministries. At one point, a staff member asked me what I did for work. I said I was not working and was on disability for anxiety and depression. He then proceeded to say, “Oh, I work with crazy people.” I was stunned. I could not believe what just happened. I was so angry. I went to the pastor and told him what happened. He told me, “Well, we just have to forgive people. The church is imperfect, you know.” I was shocked. I left this church and never went back.

Let me address the pastor’s point. Yes, the church is made up of human beings who are imperfect. Pastors are imperfect people who most likely are doing the best they can, and they can’t be all things to all people. This does not excuse wrongdoing and turning a blind eye to injustices going on. This is not an excuse to ignore issues that present themselves to you or the people in need right in front of your face. You have taken a vow to help these people. It is your obligation to educate yourself on what your congregation is going through — to address its needs. If you claim to follow Christ, you have to at least try to act like it.

Churches need to comb the pews, get to know the people who attend, not just the mentally ill but everyone. What are their needs? Their stories? Are they chronically ill? Can you start a ministry, even a small one, to help these people? If you can’t, at least be understanding, compassionate and listen. Let them know they are heard and welcomed. It’s the Christian thing to do.

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Texts to the Crisis Text Line Double as Election Night Results Come In

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Crisis Text Line – a text-based crisis hotline, which pairs those needing support with trained crisis counselors – reports they have received two times the amount of texts they usually receive following the results of the U.S. election early Wednesday morning.

According to Liz Eddy, the director of communications for Crisis Text Line, the crisis line has never seen a surge like this following a political event. They have, however, seen similar surges following other current events, like the death of Robin Williams.

If you need support in the period following the election, you can reach the Crisis Text Line by sending a text to 741741.

You can read Crisis Text Line’s full statement below.

You Got This, America

Yesterday was a bit of surprise–for the people who are happy about the election results and the people who are unhappy. The entire country is feeling feels.

What is the data?
In the last 24 hours, we’ve seen a 2x increase in volume.
The words “election” and “scared” are the top two things being mentioned by texters.
The most common association with “scared” was “LGBTQ.”
Over 5% of texters yesterday mentioned anxiety about family disagreement over the election.

How are we handling this moment?
We rallied! Our community of trained volunteer Crisis Counselors has been incredible. And, amazingly, our quality and response times have been higher than average!

Despite the increase in volume, we actually saw a 2 percentage point increase in satisfaction ratings. (A whopping 88% of texters said that connecting with us was helpful.)
Despite the increase in volume, we actually saw a 3 percentage point increase in speed. We were able to help 91% of texters in under 5 five minutes–including “high severity” texters connecting with a human in an average 39 seconds.

How can YOU handle this moment?
You’re feeling a lot of feels (confusion, fear, depression), but you’re probably not in crisis. There are simple things you can do to keep yourself calm and safe. And, you can share these things with other people too! (Helping others get calm is a terrific way to help yourself!)

Kindness. Do a random, anonymous act of kindness for someone else today. Putting love out there in the world is an amazing way to help someone else–and you–feel happy.
Community work. Frustrated about the national political landscape? Think local! Be part of a hands-on solution. DoSomething.org has hundreds of ideas–and they don’t require any $$.
People. Humans need other humans. If your parents voted for the other party, maybe avoid talking politics with your parents for a few days! Instead, spend time with people who feel your feels. Cook, exercise, binge on Netflix. Do activities with friends…beyond talking.
Self-Care. There are free evidence-based techniques that can help you feel calm and in control: the 4-7-8 method, 54321 technique and this breathing gif.
Resources. We’ve listed some terrific resources at CrisisTextLine.org

How to help a freaked-out friend?
Are your friends having a tough time? You can help. Best thing you can do: listen.
Validate their feelings…and don’t try to solve the problem. You can’t solve other people’s problems!
Recognize their strengths. (“Wow, you are so brave.”)
Asking questions is great, and so is just simply listening. Lots of head nodding. Lots of hugs. Just be there.
Help them remember things that make them feel strong. Music? Exercise? Writing?
Feeling like you might be good at this? Apply to be a volunteer Crisis Counselor.

You got this, America. Really, you do.

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People With Mental Illnesses Matter on This Historic Election Day

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Our greatest desire, as humans, is to belong. Every single one of us wants to be seen, accepted, and loved, exactly as we are. As an individual with several mental illnesses I understand this need, and I understand that not everyone can feel like they belong. It has been a struggle, but believe it or not, I have found some places where I can belong, despite my anxiety, depression, body dysmorphia, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I say “despite” because even with all the work we’ve done, individuals with mental illness are still stigmatized, even to one another. To this day, belonging is a struggle.

This election season has me to question that even more. I wrote about how memes about Trump supporters having a mental illness stigmatizes individuals that actually have a mental illness, and let’s just say the comments were not the most supportive afterwards. Today, Election Day, I am worried more than ever. Neither candidate has made me feel that I am a priority, that I deserve to belong in the world they want to create over the next four years. Of course, the two are not equal in their support of individuals with disabilities and mental illness, but we still have a long way to go.

Today I worry, not just about the results, but also about the future, regardless of which candidate wins. I worry about accessibility for individuals with mental illness, in our schools, our work, and everywhere else. This isn’t about the lesser of two evils, or evil at all; it’s about creating a better world. And regardless of who wins this is our opportunity, not just for individuals with mental illness, but every other group that has been thrown under the bus during this election season. This is our opportunity to demand more because we deserve more. We deserve to end the stigma surrounding mental illness, to make our world accessible to the nearly 1 in 4 individuals who will deal with a mental illness throughout their lives. We are a priority, in this election and every day after, until the next one, and the next one after that.

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