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Why Being 'Off Medication' for Mental or Chronic Illness Isn't Always 'Good'

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Editor's Note

Any medical information included is based on a personal experience. For questions or concerns regarding health, please consult a doctor or medical professional.

I was rewatching “Girl, Interrupted” with my fiancée when I noticed the character Susanna states that she is “off meds” as she lists supposedly “good” things. This 1999 film (and its literary predecessor, which was published in 1993) is a bit dated now, but people sometimes still think being “off meds” is “good” or realistic for everyone. Medications, though, are often vital to a person’s overall health and wellbeing — they can help them function in their daily lives as well as in society. Being on or off medication is not a mark of how successful you are at surviving, adapting to, or managing your mental health or chronic illness.

Sometimes you’re better off with medication. Sometimes meds are necessary (given that they were prescribed in the first place and that many have to continue to be taken to help), and sometimes they aren’t helpful. However, it doesn’t do any good to judge people for taking medication to help their health. In my experience, most people would do without meds if they could because of the hassle to get or take them. For these people, being on meds is far better than the alternative.

Being off of medication can be “good” if the meds weren’t helping you at all or weren’t helpful enough to be worth the side effects, effort, time, and money put into continuing them. If your medications were giving you side effects worse than the benefits they provided, then it might be good to stop them or wean off of them slowly and perhaps try to find a more effective medication or treatment. However, this path isn’t right for everyone, and it doesn’t demonstrate a cure if you go off your medication with your doctor’s permission — just a step towards ongoing care.

The needs that you had before you started your medications don’t often disappear once you stop taking the medication, but (hopefully) what was bothering you after you started taking your medication might go away. It’s disingenuous to the wide variety of symptoms that people experience and even dangerous to posit that meds aren’t helpful for everyone because they don’t work for some people. Bodies react differently to treatment for a whole host of chemical and physiological reasons.

Personally, I would never want my doctor to rule out a type of treatment entirely on the basis of the potential reaction of another person. Even if you have the same conditions that others do, their treatment plans might not be right for you, and I hope more people grow to understand that.

Getty image by Marko Geber.

Originally published: March 29, 2022
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