Medication can be an important part of the treatment plan for a mental illness. It can help stabilize and manage symptoms. Only, however, if taken correctly.
There are so many factors in any mental illness that can affect someone’s behaviours, thoughts and habits. Because of this, it can be hard to manage meds. There are many reasons why someone would take their meds incorrectly or stop taking them entirely. That being said, I could write an entire blog post on the stigma surrounding psychotropic medications and the way people are shamed for using them as part of their treatment.
This is just one of the reasons someone would have trouble complying with their medication; the shame many people are made to feel for taking medication can affect the way they comply with them. It can be hard to use medication correctly if you are told it is a weak choice and a stronger person would find a “healthier” coping mechanism or treatment option. Have you ever seen the meme with a photo of a forest with the text “This is an antidepressant”, followed by a photo of a pill with the text “This is not”? Not helpful. This kind of shaming and invalidating those who take medication to feel better does nothing positive.
When shame sets in and someone internalizes that judgment, they may feel like taking their medication is the wrong choice. They may feel overwhelmed and out of control and the decision not to take their meds becomes their way of taking charge, of feeling more “normal”.
Sometimes, medication compliance can be affected by the symptoms of the illness itself. If someone misses a dose or two by mistake or absentmindedness and symptoms start resurfacing more strongly than they normally do, these symptoms may bring about thoughts or tendencies that would make someone ignore their treatment plan.
For example, last summer I took a three-week medical leave from work. I had stopped taking my medication and fallen into a downward spiral. My psychiatrist prescribed three weeks off to recover and titrate back up to my usual doses.
The weeks prior to this, I was feeling increasingly depressed and anxious and I had trouble managing my emotions and my behaviours. It was getting worse and worse and I eventually had a panic attack at a training session. I decided at that moment that I needed to see my doctor and needed to address what was going on.
What had happened is the following: I missed one day of my meds. Then I missed another. Then I got out of the habit of taking them and the less often I took them the more I felt like I should get along without them. As I started feeling worse, my confidence and sense of self waned and I started believing I didn’t deserve to feel better. So I stopped taking them altogether.
Not complying with a medication plan that one is accustomed to being on can be unhealthy and dangerous and no one should be influenced by judgment and shame when it comes to this. That being said, medication compliance is the responsibility of the person to whom the medication was prescribed. Here are some ways to help you stay on top of your meds:
Leave your medication in a visible place where you will see it at the time you need to take it. For example, next to your toothbrush if you take it at night.
Organize your meds in a pill container for each day of the week so you don’t have to count them out each day
Set up automatic reminders with your pharmacy for when refills are needed
Read up on your medication, how they benefit you, how they affect your mind and body and what side effects might come up
Manage your side effects
Talk to the doctor prescribing them if you are having trouble staying on top of your meds. Try to find strategies together.
Medication compliance can be difficult but if you have been prescribed medication, chances are they help you manage symptoms and help you feel better. There is no shame or weakness in taking psych medication. It does not make you a lesser person and no one should be telling you to do some downward dogs at sunrise and realize you never needed the meds in the first place.
Years ago, I was told by a supervisor at a job that I should make my 2 year goal to be off my meds. Excuse me? Are you a medical practitioner? Do you even know my diagnosis?
Don’t let anyone who isn’t a medical professional give you advice on your medication. That being said, if you don’t feel right on certain medication, you also need to advocate for yourself when it comes to your doctor. It’s a balance. Regardless, your medication plan is between you and your doctor and no one should shame you for it or pass judgment on it.