Wednesday, December 7, 2011


 Westerners (that's us in the US) are quick to take a pill. Headache? Have an aspirin. Sore muscles? Advil. Hearing voices? We've got anti-psychotics. A little down? How about some anti-depressants? We even make cute cartoon commercials to personify your feelings and show how they hang around. Did you ever notice that the bad feelings in the commercials never quite go away? They're always lingering nearby. But is that reality? Do life's bad feelings go away?

Have you ever been sad? Sure you have. Would you describe yourself as "sad" right now? If not, could you search and think until you found something to make you sad? Sure. Does that mean you're secretly sad? Of course not! Sadness goes away. That's called happiness, or contentment. And you've had that, too, right? Right. So isn't the goal of psychiatry to make people well enough to where they resume daily contentment; as least as much as anyone without chemical imbalance? Theoretically, yes, but that is not generally what we're seeing. 

The majority of folks are being prescribed a pill for one thing or another, asked to check back in a month for symptom monitoring, which takes about 15 minutes, and given a refill or a new prescription. Some pills are prescribed just to offset the symptoms of other pills. Cogentin, for example (a Parkinson's disease medication), is prescribed to prevent possible seizures from medications like Abilify (an anti-psychotic). You don't have to have every had a history of seizure disorder or any actual seizures to get this additional medication, and the possible side effects of Cogentin are equally as numerous as any other medication, of course. Psychotic symptoms? Here's two prescriptions! What does this do to our bodies, our minds, our wallets, and our insurance system? With good insurance you're a cash pinata.

Interestingly, the US is very different from other countries in how it handles mental illness in relation to medication. In Europe, it is generally suggested, but is up to the patient to decide their treatment. In the US, land of the free, we tend to dictate. Lexicographers, think of the meaning of the word "prescribe", (scribe) to lay down as a rule (pre) before something happens.

So if medication is not the first step, what's a person to do? I'm a therapist - and when you're a hammer, everything looks like a nail - so I believe you should seek therapy. There are plenty of good therapists all over the world, though you do have to find one that fits your personality. Together with your therapist, you should be seeking the roots of the problem: What caused the symptom? And tackling it from that end. Stress causes you to hear voices? How can you manage your stress - exercise, diet, Tai Chi, breathing exercises, meditation, music, structuring your day to include relaxation? Anger issues? I run groups to teach appropriate anger management for teens and adults. Depression caused by grief or other issues? Hypnotherapy is great for grief, depression, anxiety, and so many things. 

Your problems are solvable!  Whatever the issue, there is a cause and there is a fix. Be slow to medicate and quick to look for the source. Like a weed, life's dilemmas can be pulled up and dealt with. Like weeds, they'll come back eventually, but you can handle that, too. And once you have found strength in overcoming a problem, you can rely on that strength next time. When is the last time a pill ever taught you that?

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