30 'Red Flags' That Let People With Mental Illness Know It Was Time to Start Medication

Editor’s note: Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication.

Sometimes, people who are struggling with their mental health will turn to psychiatric medication as an effective form of treatment. But deciding when to start taking medication can be tough  — at what point does medication become the right treatment to pursue? You might wonder if your mental health is “bad enough” or “if you really need it.”

That’s why we asked our Mighty mental health community to share with us a “red flag” that let them know it was time to see a doctor about starting psychiatric medication. Whether it is a gradual change in your mental health, or a sharp, abrupt turn, it is important to remember that you don’t have to wait until you’re “bad enough” to start taking medication. It’s not for everyone, but you deserve to do what’s best for your mental health. 

Here is what they had to say:

1. “When you don’t make sense to yourself. Isolation. Depression. Anxiety to get through the day or even out of bed… nothing feels good or even OK. Getting trapped in a dark part of my brain and not knowing the way out is what did it for me. It was more manageable before, but it definitely grew and eventually controlled me. I knew I needed to reach out for help. I couldn’t do it on my own anymore.” — Cecily F.

2. “When I couldn’t shake the feeling of ‘people would be better off without me,’ while also having irrational fears of people I loved dying. I would freak out if someone didn’t answer their phone because I was convinced something horrible happened to them.” — Satonia R.

3. “I vividly recall hiding in my college dorm bathroom having a panic attack on my 18th birthday. For personal reasons, I didn’t want to try psychiatric medications until I was at least 18 or older if needed. Well, that day came, and it all hit me like a ton of bricks how essential it was to start taking medication. My anxiety was unbearable, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to make it through college unless I made a change. Tomorrow is my 23rd birthday, marking nearly five years of being on medication. Those constant panic attacks and periods of immense depression made me realize I needed to see a psychiatrist, and today I can say I’m so grateful that I did. It truly changed my life for the better.” — Gianna G.

4. “Persistent violent thoughts and urges at myself and others. I tried a year without meds, but when I felt like I was going to hurt someone soon, I decided to accept the meds.” — Mark S.

5. “I couldn’t sleep at night, but during the day I felt like I was going to fall asleep. Also, I found myself crying all the time for no reason at all. I thought to myself, ‘OK, this isn’t normal. I think I’m having a depression relapse. I need help.’” — Christina B.

6. “I was sleeping all day, not attending or caring about classes and feeling too anxious and fatigued to go anyways. I knew that if I didn’t get professional help soon I wasn’t going to make it to the next year.” — Jessica C.

7. “I have bipolar disorder and didn’t realize it until I had a euphoric manic episode. I felt so upbeat, positive and bubbly, so I knew something was wrong. The depression didn’t tip me off, that was ‘normal,’ and the angry manic episodes just made me think I was stressed, but suddenly becoming the exact opposite of who I was, was a really big red flag that told me I needed to see a doctor.” — Alexandria G.

8. “Nothing was working. therapy was only helping a little. People in my life were afraid for me. They knew I couldn’t live like this. I was empty all the time.” — Kerri M.

9. “When I was experiencing manic symptoms, spending sometimes thousands of pounds a weeks, getting piercings and tattoos, not sleeping for days when I started recovering from anorexia — I decided to start antipsychotics again. I was subsequently diagnosed with bipolar type II. Nearly two years later, I’ve found a cocktail of medications that have put a stop to the mania and my bipolar is under control.” — Fran C.

10. “I kept thinking about driving into oncoming traffic. I wasn’t suicidal, but every time I drove I would think ‘what if…” and then picture what would happen to me, to the other driver, my family, the other drivers trying to get around the accident. Every time I drove. That was a big flashing sign I needed help.” — Janina J.

11. “You don’t really notice it inherently, it’s the trend of feeling defeated. Notice if there is a trend. You are in unbearable emotional states frequently, it feels hard just to get through the days. That’s when you should know.” — Erik M.

12. “Anger. I was so so angry for no reason. The littlest thing would set me off. I knew the time had come when I was sitting in a room full of my family who were all laughing and happy. I should have been too, but I was angry. I wanted to scream, cry, throw stuff, hurt myself. It took all I had to walk away. Turns out my manic bipolar comes out as anger — severe anger that I didn’t know I had in me. It scares me.” — Laura S.

13. “Anxiety attacks so bad it felt like my heart was going to explode so I went to the hospital. At the follow up doctors appointment, and after a lot of questions, my doctor explained my depression and anxiety to me, explaining how the medication would help balance me out. I have been doing so much better since. Yeah it sucks being on meds, but I look at the positive of this: I am able to get out of bed, leave my house, do things with my family. I’m able to live!” — Francene W.

14. “When I realized I was destroying my relationships with everyone around me because I had no motivation to try. I just thought to myself, ‘Oh well, they’ll leave someday even if I fix it.’” — Tabbie H.

15. “Just going through the motions of life and not really living it. Wanting to isolate myself for fear of hurting my loved ones. Thinking about suicide all the time but also knowing how devastated my kids would be, if they even cared at all. It’s a daily struggle to get out of bed and try to function in what most people would consider a ‘normal’ society. Trying to talk to my doctor, but all she says and keeps saying is, ‘Do you need to be hospitalized?’ She’s not really hearing what I’m trying to say, but hearing only what she wants to hear. I’ve learned to just step back and just breathe. I try to take it one day at a time, that’s the best I can do.” — Regina T.

16. “Feeling as though everything is going wrong and falling apart and it’s all your fault. No motivation to do anything, even care for yourself or clean the house, even though it’s making you feel worse seeing the mess pile up. Not wanting to get out of bed and face the day.

Being so distracted that you forget important things. Just overall when you start feeling like you’re not good enough for anything or anyone and that people wouldn’t really notice if one day, you just stopped turning up.” — Kelly P.

17. “One night I went home and drank two bottles of wine in under an hour. I don’t remember doing it. When my roommate got home, she had to help me just to get to the bathroom. I was extremely suicidal, acting reckless, and for the first time, I was scaring people around me. That was enough for me to know I needed to get help. Two med adjustments later and I can finally handle my manic state.” — Kaitlyn L.

18. “When I couldn’t shake the paranoia. When I was afraid to take a shower because I was alone. When I held back tears all day at work and as soon as I got in the car I broke down.” — Kaity O.

19. “After meeting and getting to know my freshman college roommate who was extremely open about her depression, I realized the way I feel isn’t ‘normal’ and could benefit from some help. For that I am always grateful to her.” — Lauren C.

20. “When I couldn’t fake a smile anymore. My mask was truly ‘burned out’ and I could not function. Not even enough to shower or wash my hair. This went on for around six weeks, and then I saw a psychiatrist privately because the National Health Service refused to refer or medicate me until I was 18. This was only in 2008, so it wasn’t even that long ago.” — Becky C.

21. “At about the nine month mark of being unemployed, having no real friends, being in a rather new city with no financial or emotional support whatsoever. The anxiety got so bad that I had trouble making decisions, let alone actually putting a plan together. Even if I made a list to structure my day, I would choose to sleep or waste my day; not because I wanted to, but because even a list was extremely overwhelming to me. I was crying nearly nonstop for about a week when it dawned on me that I had slowly gotten worse and worse. I just couldn’t go on feeling that way, so I made an appointment to see the doctor for the very next day. It is absolutely horrible to feel yourself slip away and feeling like you are struggling to hang on.” — Tenley P.

22. “Night terrors, night sweats. Having more bad days than good ones. Bad anxiety over virtually nothing. Overreacting to little things and being distant. The breakthrough was self-harm, realizing that alcohol was a trigger and a constant voice in my head telling me I’m a complete failure.” — Samantha H.

23. “Too many symptoms got too severe. [I] couldn’t sleep because of nightmares. I couldn’t work because anxiety was out of control or I’d wake up and have no motivation to move. My moods were so out of control. I felt like I couldn’t see loved ones for fear of saying something in the moment. Suicidal thoughts were more than just fleeting, because I just wanted relief from everything. “ — Katie N.

24. “I started feeling pure hatred toward my son. I wanted nothing to do with him. Being around him made my sick to my stomach. He didn’t deserve that from his mother. There was no real reason for me to feel that way. That’s when I knew it was time for help. Now I’m on meds and feeling normal and enjoy my kids again.” — Sarah S.

25. “I was in a constant state of high arousal, no matter what. My heart was racing and I felt like I couldn’t breathe fast enough, and I was nauseous to the point of not being able to eat. I felt this way even when I couldn’t identify any stressors and when I consciously believed I was safe.” — Lily C.

26. “Writing in my diary and realizing the things I was writing scared me. How badly I wanted to die and how afraid I was not to live. I was living in fear of everything. I was barely living and I felt there had to be more to my life than this living hell. I didn’t want to give up.” — Jade D.

27. “I got into a loud verbal argument with my toilet about summer flushing etiquette — and lost.” — James C.

28. “When I realized I had been telling myself for years that things would get better and they didn’t. I knew I had to do something, because things were not just going to get better without help.” — Jill A.

29. “When you can’t find your way out of the deep, dark fog of depression and you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel no matter how much your loved ones try to help.” — Michelle A.

30. “When I had a two month old infant and couldn’t leave the house for weeks because the panic attacks would start as soon as I sat down in my car to go somewhere. I realized I couldn’t let my daughter grow up seeing her mother like that and missing out on important things in her life. It was time.” — Rachel C.

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

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “HOME” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

Thinkstock photo via Electra-K-Vasileiadou

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