Friday 20 March 2015

How to make a decision about mental health medication

- Rosemary Harris

I’ve always been a Googler. I, for example, recently convinced myself I have alopecia, diabetes and/or a brain tumour. For the record I have none of these. I do, however, suffer from depression and anxiety. If you’re anything like me, getting to this diagnosis involved a lot of internet searching (“am I going crazy?” being my low point), before ending up at the doctor. Once you understand the diagnosis you will likely be offered anti-depressants, particularly if you are in the middle if you are approaching an important deadline – I was 2 months from my dissertation deadline and having to spend 8-hour days in the lab. 

Making the decision over whether you want or are ready to take medication can be difficult. There are a whole host of reasons why people do/don’t take them and this blog post is absolutely not about trying to tell you what to do. For the record I initially resisted taking them until I spent a night staving off a panic attack on Skype to a friend in a far-off country at 3am, and being on medication is on the whole working out well for me. But you have to be ready. 

Not going on them initially wasn’t necessarily the wrong decision – but it was made for the wrong reasons. When faced with the difficult decision I spent hours on Google looking up side-effects and people’s experiences. The internet can be a hugely valuable resource, and has allowed for websites such as this to open up a whole world of support for people struggling with mental health problems. The downside is that there are also some scary places. Bad experiences and scare stories are much more appealing reads for newspapers and magazines, and forums are often places that people go to vent and tell people about a scary experience, sometimes with a little added “dramatic flair”. So having gotten carried away reading all these stories, and not turning to people or places that would have really helped, I turned down medication because I was scared.

This isn’t to say that the internet can’t be a valuable resource, this blog alone, for example, provides so much to people who are struggling. So in light of the above, here are some avenues that can be truly helpful when trying to make a decision about your treatment: 
  • First and foremost, talk to your GP or specialist. They will have the most information and likely have heard your questions before. If you have a lot of questions maybe write them down before you go so you don’t forget – the ‘Doc Ready’ app can really help with this. 
  • Talk to a friend. I found once I started confiding in people about my own mental health problems, so many came out of the woodwork with their own experiences. They can’t give you a professional advice, but talking to someone with some experience that you know has your best interests at heart can be very helpful. 
  • NHS choices has a lot of information about mental health problems, and a whole page devoted to antidepressants 
  • HeadMeds is a website launched by the Young Minds charity with information and student stories relating to many different medications. They went through an intensive process in order to set up the website, and provide information on this, including focus groups with young people to find out what would be most helpful for them. 
  • Students against Depression also has a help sheet on the pros and cons of medication – though it’s important to remember in these cases that not everyone will experience the same, if any, downsides. 
  • Most of these websites also have stories of other students who have suffered from depression, which can always provide comfort at times when you feel most isolated and alone. 
Ultimately, the most important thing to remember is that this is your choice - and all you can do is arm yourself with as much information as possible to make the correct decision for you!

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