• Rachel Paige

The Process Starts Over

I talked about medication a while ago. In that post, I asked if medication for mental illness is bad. I also explained the medications I'm on and a little bit of the science behind why they work.

So, we've decided that it isn't bad to take medication for a mental illness. (If you haven't decided that, go check out the post linked above.)

Now I want to talk about what being on medication for a mental illness looks like. This is mostly directed to those of you taking it or know someone who is.

First, they take a long time to work. Other medications work fast or you can at least start to see improvement within a few days. With antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications, they can take 1-3 weeks to kick in. Sometimes longer. And after that time, they still might not be working entirely. That can take even longer.

Which is why medication can seem like it doesn't help at first. We're so used to getting things fast, that 3 weeks of waiting seems like it's not coming at all. Give it a full chance.

Second, the first medication might not work. As I described before, mental health meds are largely a guessing game. Educated guessing, but still guessing. So it might take 3 weeks to kick in, then another few weeks of waiting before it's clear that nothing is going to happen with that one.

Then a new med is prescribed and the process starts all over again.

Also, it might work for awhile, then stop. I mentioned before that I was on my first antidepressant for about a year and then it stopped working for me. This isn't that uncommon. Often, medications can help at first and plateau later. For me, that took a year.

Other times, they might help until a big life event happens. Something that can make a preexisting mental illness worse. The medication might have been enough before but not be anymore.

The dose might get increased, or... a new med is prescribed.

And the process starts all over again.

Sometimes, medication makes things worse. You've probably seen this in commercials for antidepressants and yes, it's a thing. Sometimes, going on an antidepressant can make a mental illness worse. I don't know why, so don't ask me. But it happens.

Then a new med is prescribed and the process starts all over again.

Sometimes, medication works great, but the side effects are so bad that the person can't stay on it. There's a plethora of them. Some are barely noticeable, some are a big deal. If they're a big deal... can you guess what happens?

A new med is prescribed and the process starts all over again.

Are you sensing a theme? Mental illnesses are not easy to treat. It takes a long time to find the right medication. It can easily take years before the illness is completely under control.

Years. So, if you're the one starting medication, don't worry. It might take a long time, but there's still hope. Hang in there.

If it's someone you know who is on medication, be patient with them. It's okay to be frustrated if they don't seem to be making progress. But remember that they're more frustrated than you. Your support can go a very long way.

Alright, so that's the timeline. There's a one other thing I want to talk about: going off medication.

There's a lot of reasons someone might go off a medication. Like any of the reasons listed above, not working, not working anymore, getting worse, or side effects. Sometimes, people also choose to go off it because they don't want to be on it.

Here's the thing about antidepressants: they can make it hard to feel any extreme emotion. So you feel less depressed, but it may also be harder to feel overjoyed. Which is a pretty great feeling. Personally, I don't have that problem. Which is lovely. But people who do may want to stop taking their medication so they can feel a whole range of emotion again.

Another reason is people think they don't need them any more. I want to put out a warning here: this is often not true. Just because you feel like you are healed from your mental illness, that doesn't mean you are. More likely, it means your meds are working. I used a metaphor of wearing glasses here, so I'll use it again. My vision is great if I have my glasses on. That doesn't mean my eyes are healed. If I take my glasses off, my vision will go back to how it was before.

The same is often true of mental illnesses.

It turns out I had more to say than I initially thought. So, I'm going to continue on this topic next time and talk about the process of going off medication and why you should never do it without your doctor's permission.

So, I'll leave you with this for now. Mental health meds can take a long time to work. They are mostly a guessing game. Hang in there and don't give up on them just because one or two didn't work for you.

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