Editor’s note This blog ,by Diane Engster, was first posted August 18, 2012, without documentation. As editor, I take full responsibility for the oversight, which several readers called to our attention. We are updating the blog now, with documentation.
Whenever possible, WellnessWordworks.com embeds our documentation as links in the in the text, not a list of references at the end. This enables the reader to click on the link, and look at the reference, without leaving the original page of the blog entry. In this video, Wellness Wordworks founder and creative director Corinna West discusses the importance of documenting all claims about health care, particularly psychiatric medication:
— Ken Braiterman, Blogs editor, Wellnesswordworks.com
by Diane Engster
I’m astonished at how ignorant about psych meds many people who take them still are..
We’ve known for years about their dangerous side effects like (obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke). Few people have heard, however of the difficulty getting off when you’ve been taking them for a while, or even about the suicidal and homicidal feelings the government warns us against on product labels.
Now, enough people have been taking psych meds long enough to do statistically significant long-term outcome studies, which show harm even to people who benefit from meds in the short term.
We’re seeing cognitive deterioration, increased chronic symptoms in conditions that, before the
medication revolution in the 50’s, used to go away in time with rest, talk therapy, and support. Robert Whitaker’s award-winning book Anatomy of an Epidemic (2010) summarizes much of this recent research.People who take anti-depressant medication, especially children, are much more likely to progress from from major depression to bipolar disorder, to rapid cycling bipolar disorder.
And these findings do not include the hard-to-measure outcomes of people feeling generally less sharp, energetic, and with it, who feel they can’t live to the fullest, and be the person they want to be.
Being Ignorant about Psych Meds is Not an Option
Staying ignorant about psych meds is a luxury people who take them can no longer afford. Blindly following doctor’s orders, ignorant about what you’re taking, should be a thing of the distant past, but it’s not for many reasons, not all of which are the person’s fault, some of which are caused by old-fashioned care providers.
Some people I know don’t even know the names of their meds, what type of med it is, or what it is really for. Docs often misrepresent meds. A person might say they are having trouble sleeping, and the doc could prescribe Seraquel, or trazadone, or a benzodiazepine, or benedryl and not really say what type of drug it is, or the dangers. There are side-effects which are annoying, side-effects which are dangerous, and for some medication, death is a side effect we aren’t warned about.
We Find More Dangers All the Time
When I first started taking anti-depressants, I had dry mouth, which I continue to have. Fairly recently, I found out that dry mouth can cause dental problems. I never knew about that, or other anti-depressant side effects, and my doc still hasn’t told me.
Now they are saying that long-term use of anti-depressants can actually cause more relapses of serious depression in the future. And we certainly don’t know if all of the atypical anti-psychotics have the same level of risk in causing diabetes.
I see studies every month that talk about a new danger from anti-depressants. Until recently, research was not done on long-term use of the drugs, so how could we fully know what the dangers are?
Now, there are added “off-label” uses for drugs that were never formally studied or approved by the FDA. Abilify, from the anti-psychotic category, is being prescribed for depression. Wellbutrin is prescribed for smoking cessation. And anti-seizure medication (such as Depakote) is used as mood stabilizers.
Some people can’t Help Lack of Knowlege About Medications
Several consumers I have advocated for had special education issues as young people, and cannot read or understand complex information. They have trouble deciphering the medication information sheets that come from pharmacies.
Also, in Northern Virginia,. we have an incredibly diverse population, and many people don’t have English as their first language. They are at a great disadvantage when seeing the doc, and reading the med sheets.
Also, some I have advocated for have both severe mental illness and intellectual disabilities, diagnoses which make it difficult to understand all this without a lot of assistance, which they rarely get.
There are also many consumers who have no access to computers, or don’t know how to use them, so its not too easy to look stuff up on the Internet. And the mental health clinic does not usually share its Physicians Desk Reference (PDR, a manual of all prescription drugs, their uses, and side effects) with clients.
Helping people who can’t help being ignorant about psych meds is a great job for a peer specialist.
Sometimes, you have to be assertive with your doctor to find out about your medications, but your pharmacist will give you all the most reliable information if you ask for it, recovery pioneer Mary Ellen Copeland says.
You can also search the name of the drug on the Internet, but read several articles. Look for information from a reputable research institution, not a drug company or someone who is against all medication on principle. Anybody can put anything on the Internet, true or false.
Dr. Copeland recommends that everyone know the following things about every psychiatric medicine they take before they take it:
- The brand name and generic name of every medication
- What it’s for
- What side effects to look for
- How long it usually takes to become effective
- How long to wait before reporting side effects
- How long before deciding it’s not working, and to look for an alternative
Can you make people less ignorant about psych meds they take? How?