Today, most people will agree that the idea of mental health has been destigmatized. Mental health is no longer a taboo topic, and a significant number of people see a mental health professional.
It is a positive thing that everyone is interested in talking about their mental health concerns, and addressing their emotional and psychological concerns. The concern is when the overevaluating leads to overdiagnosing, overtreating, and lastly, overmedicating.
Surrounding this thin line in the “to medicate or not medicate” debate are two schools of thought: those who refuse to take medication (and refuse to consent to their children being medicated) and those who, no matter what the diagnosis or prognosis, want the medication. These are common issues, particularly when dealing with anxiety, depression and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
There are pros and cons to both decisions when choosing medication or therapy. Medication may work quicker and have a more powerful effect on symptoms up front, offering an individual quick relief, whereas it may take longer to feel the effects of psychotherapy. However, it is important to point out that antidepressant medication does not offer quick symptom relief. In fact, it is common for individuals to not feel the therapeutic effects of antidepressants for three to eight weeks. While the benefits of antidepressants on mood and energy will not help with coping skills and intervention strategies, the benefit here is that the positive effects of the medication may help elevate your mood to a level where you can focus on therapy, learn new coping strategies and put them into practice.
Psychotherapy, however, may be more beneficial in the long term, especially since a psychologist can help an individual identify elements of the person’s lifestyle and habits that may be contributing to or maintaining the problematic symptoms. This is an especially salient argument for individuals suffering from anxiety and depression. Medication may help us feel better, but therapy forces us to face our issues and directly attack our triggers and stressors. Developing effective coping strategies and resolving stressors can be a much more manageable long-term solution to anxiety and depression than medication, which once started, how does one determine when to discontinue it? Research shows that non-pharmaceutical remedies for anxiety and depression can be just as effective. These may include relaxation techniques, exercise and diet. Experts make a similar argument for some individuals with ADHD, and believe that they can learn to survive effectively without medication, and instead can learn to adapt with special diets, and organizational strategies and tools.
It is important to note that this is not meant to be a bash against medications and to encourage people to not visit psychiatrists when needed. Medications are available to help people who are suffering and they should be used that way. In this day and age, where there is a prescription available for everything, it is important to think critically about the treatment options available, and to remind ourselves that pharmacology is not always the best, first-line treatment out there. There is certainly a time when medication is the best option. In fact, research shows that for a number of mental health issues, including depression, a combination of pharmacological and psycho-therapy is the best option and provides individuals with the best prognosis.
Your particular symptoms, including frequency and severity will play a role in determining which treatment option is right for you.
- Nicole Andreoli, PhD