Breaking the Stigma of Medication For Mental Health Disorders

May 3, 2023


Alto Pharmacy

Mental health disorders are among the most common health issues, affecting more than 1 in 5 U.S. adults. But despite how widespread these challenges are — and despite greater awareness of them in recent years — the stigma of mental illness remains a significant problem, one that keeps many people from seeking vital support. Of all the U.S. adults living with a mental health disorder, more than half don’t receive treatment.

Anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and other mental health disorders are medical conditions. Treating them with medication is no different than lowering cholesterol levels with statins or maintaining balanced blood sugar with insulin. However, there are many misconceptions and negative connotations unique to mental health treatment.

No one should be discouraged from seeking the treatment that they need to feel their best. Here are a few reasons why there is no shame in taking medication for a mental health disorder.

Taking medication doesn’t mean you’re unable to manage your health on your own.

Despite the benefits of psychiatric medication, many people consider it a last resort to explore only after trying therapy and lifestyle habits like mindfulness and exercise. Often, this stems from a misconception that those who take medication for a mental health disorder aren’t working hard enough to manage their problems.

Living with a mental health condition looks different for everyone. While some people are able to manage symptoms of depression or anxiety with therapy and lifestyle changes alone, others need a treatment plan that includes medication.

Given how difficult it can be to seek a mental health diagnosis — not to mention to share your feelings openly with a healthcare professional — taking medication is not at all a sign of weakness. It reflects a commitment to your health and wellness, one to be proud of.

Keep in mind, too, that medication and therapy aren’t mutually exclusive tools, and in deciding to take medication, you’re not choosing between the two. Far from a substitute for therapy, medication is in some cases necessary for therapy to be impactful. For example, many people with a depressive disorder find that they need to first address symptoms with medication in order to benefit from therapy sessions. Research has also affirmed this approach: some studies have found that a combination of therapy and medication is more effective at treating depression and eating disorders than either individual treatment.

It isn’t “taking the easy way out.”

Many who equate medication use with weakness see this treatment option as putting a band-aid over a problem, or taking the easy way out. On the contrary, psychiatric medications are far from a quick fix. Medication therapy can take time and a fair amount of trial and error.

With many of these medications, it can take several weeks or more before you experience the benefits. For example, many selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) — a type of medication commonly used to treat depression and anxiety — take two weeks to begin to have a therapeutic effect, and up to six weeks to reach a full therapeutic effect. This is why it’s important to be patient when starting a new medication, and to continue to take it as prescribed even if you don’t feel like it’s working. If you have concerns after several weeks, speak with your provider.

Also, while a medication may be able to relieve symptoms of a mental health disorder, it is not a cure. Rather, it is often what allows many people to do the challenging work of managing an ongoing condition.

Psychiatric medication is a valid and effective treatment option for a medical condition.

Mental health disorders are medical conditions with physiological components. They are frequently rooted in genetics or an imbalance of chemicals in your brain. Many psychiatric medications adjust the balance of your brain chemistry to relieve symptoms of depression or anxiety. For example, SSRIs like sertraline (Zoloft®), fluoxetine (Prozac®), and escitalopram (Lexapro®) increase serotonin levels. Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) — another group of medications that includes venlafaxine (Effexor®) and duloxetine (Cymbalta®) — increase serotonin and norepinephrine.

It won’t change who you are.

Another common misconception about psychiatric medications is that they will alter your personality or make you less “you.” Many people who take medication find that they actually feel more like themselves with treatment — symptoms of mental health disorders can greatly interfere with your relationships and work and keep you from experiencing a full life.

Like most medications, some medications for anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders do have the potential for side effects. There are a variety of medication options for these conditions, so if you have concerns about side effects associated with one option in particular, your provider can help you explore alternatives.

Keep in mind that each person’s response to medication is unique. If you know someone who had side effects from one medication, it doesn’t mean that you will have the same experience.

Mental health resources

Therapist search tools

A combination of medication and therapy can be an effective treatment option for many mental health disorders. Like determining the best medication for your symptoms, finding the right therapist can take time. Here are some tips.

  • If you have insurance coverage of therapy sessions, check your insurance company’s provider network as a starting point.

  • Look through reputable online databases like Psychology Today or the American Psychological Association (APA)’s psychologist locator.

  • Some therapists offer sliding scale fees to make sessions more affordable.

Suicide and Crisis Lifeline

If you are having thoughts of suicide, need emotional support, or are concerned for a loved one, the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Choose the right pharmacy partner

Taking care of your mental health is easier with a reliable pharmacy on your side. Our pharmacists can answer any questions you may have about your medications, and we offer same-day delivery and medication management tools like reminders and auto refills in our app.

To learn more, reach out any time through secure in-app messaging or by phone at 1-800-874-5881.

This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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