If you’ve never been to therapy before, you probably have this image of sitting on a couch, talking about your problems and listening to a therapist give you tips for coping and managing your emotions. This is an accurate image, but there’s one piece you’re missing: the talk.

No, this isn’t the talk you had with your parents about how babies are made. It’s the talk about taking prescription medication to cope with mental illness.

What Is “The Talk”?

During your first or second session, your therapist will bring up the notion of using a medication to help reduce the symptoms of your mental illness. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; many people need medication to live their life.

But is it a good idea to refer a client to a psychiatrist for medication within the first few sessions?

Most people who visit a therapist do have a mental illness, but that doesn’t mean they need medication to be happy in their life. It means they need to put in the work to be happy, more so than people without a mental illness.
But when a therapist talks to a client about medication, the client will believe they need it to feel better. And that is not always the case.

The Dangers of Medication

Why shouldn’t we medicate everyone with a mental illness? If it helps them, then what’s the danger? Why try to overcome mental illness without medication, when medication provides almost immediate results?

Let’s take a look at three commonly prescribed medication groups and why they can be dangerous to people with a mental illness.

SSRIs

If you’ve been to a psychiatrist for depression or anxiety, you’ve likely been prescribed an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor). SSRIs (which include Zoloft and Lexapro) are often presented as a safe way to treat depression and anxiety.

They work by increasing serotonin, which is known as the “happy chemical”, because it is responsible for happiness and emotional wellbeing.

So, if SSRIs increase serotonin, it makes sense that they would improve depression or anxiety caused by depression. But they aren’t as effective as you may think. In fact, they’re barely more effective than the placebo effect.
And if they are effective, your brain will become reliant on the drug to create serotonin. So, without your prescription, your brain will produce even less serotonin than before you started taking the medication. This leads to a dependency on the drug.

In fact, if you decide you don’t want to use SSRIs anymore and you try quitting cold turkey, you’ll experience terrible withdrawal symptoms including suicidal thoughts and increased depression.

If SSRIs cause a chemical dependency, why are doctors prescribing it left and right, and selling it as a safe way to treat mental illness?

Benzodiazepines

Oftentimes, SSRIs aren’t effective for people with a mental illness. But if someone is told they need medication, and something doesn’t work, their doctor will move on to other medications until an effective one is found.

If SSRIs don’t work, the next step is to try benzodiazepines. This medication group includes common drugs such as Xanax and Klonopin. They are effective in treating anxiety and panic attack.

But if they’re so effective, why not prescribe them for anxiety right away?

Well, because they are addictive.

And not only are they addictive, but they’re dangerous. In fact, nearly 12,000 people died in 2017 from a benzodiazepine overdose.

Once you’re prescribed a benzo for regular use, it’s hard to quit. Many people need to go to rehab to recover from a benzo addiction, which is one of the reasons we shouldn’t be prescribing this drug lightly.

It’s undeniable that benzos can help stop anxiety and panic attacks in their track. But they need to prescribed strictly and in small amounts, so they aren’t used on a daily basis, as that will almost certainly lead to a destructive addiction.

Amphetamines

Amphetamines are prescribed for children and adults with ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) to help them stay focused throughout the day.

Amphetamines, such as Adderall, are notoriously overprescribed for children and young adults, which can have dangerous consequences. While some people may need an amphetamine to stay focused, they are way over-prescribed and given to people who either have slight ADHD or don’t have ADHD at all.

Amphetamines are also used for recreational purposes, making it even more dangerous as it’s paired with alcohol and other drugs.

Why are doctors and parents allowing children to take amphetamines every day when it’s not necessary? Well, it’s an easy way to keep a child focused and calmed down.

But instead of giving someone dangerous and addictive amphetamines every day, why not try to utilize holistic approaches to treating ADHD?

Meditation and yoga have shown to be a safe, effective, and long-term treatment for ADHD. If we encourage these practices instead of prescribing medication right off the bat, people with ADHD will have a way to treat their illness without relying on drugs.

Let’s Take a Step in the Right Direction

As someone who lives life with a mental illness, it’s especially important to be aware of the dangers of prescription medication. We need to understand what taking a medication means, and whether it’s necessary.

So, when you have “the talk” with your therapist or psychiatrist, make sure you ask plenty of questions and try to take a more holistic approach to treat your mental illness before jumping into a new medication.

Looking for more mental health-related content? Be sure to check out the rest of our blog today!

Author's Bio: 

Haley is a full-time freelance writer and graduate student. She is currently pursuing a Master's degree in Mental Health Counseling and Rehabilitation at the University of South Florida.