HomeMental HealthDealing With the Stigma of Psychotropic Medication, Forever

Dealing With the Stigma of Psychotropic Medication, Forever


© areeya_ann | Shutterstock

Source: © areeya_ann | Shutterstock

I take a lot of medication, both for medical and psychiatric conditions. So many pills that I finally treated myself to one of those automated medication dispensers, which has significantly simplified my routine.

I long ago accepted that I will be on my psych meds for the rest of my life and will be dealing with the side effects for that long as well. I consider it a small price to pay to stay out of the hospital, to be able to function and to work, to be a sister, an aunt, and a friend.

Antidepressants and other psychotropic medications — antipsychotics, mood stabilizers, and ADHD meds — carry a stigma simply because they are psychiatric medications. Admittedly, they can have unpleasant side effects. Each person must decide the risks/benefits for themselves. Additionally, having to take medication on a daily basis reminds people that “something is wrong with them” — and that something is a mental illness.

I’ve been out of the hospital for eight years now — a record. It’s the first time I’ve been able to stay out of the hospital for that long since my first admission for anorexia in 1987. Not coincidentally, I’ve been on one of my antidepressants and my second-generation antipsychotic — which acts as an adjunct to the antidepressant — for these eight years. A second antidepressant was added in 2018, following my stroke and subsequent post-stroke depression.

I live in fear that one or more of these medications will suddenly stop working, which is what happened in 2013 and which was a contributing factor to my severe depression and suicide attempt in 2014. I have to acknowledge that it’s a possibility, but there are also new anti-depressants that weren’t available in 2014. There are also new treatments available for depression that were not available in 2014, such as TMS (trans magnetic stimulation) and ketamine, which is being touted as a potential treatment.

When I first started working with my former psychiatrist, Dr. Lev, in 2005, I was in the midst of a severe depressive episode and would be hospitalized six times in 18 months. I was chronically suicidal, spouting detailed plans in our sessions. I underwent ECT (electroconvulsive therapy), which affected my memory and my ability to function. The positive effect of the ECT lasted for about a month. Following the course of the ECT, we couldn’t find the right combination of medications to sustain the reprieve from the depression and I plummeted back into the abyss.

Finally, after much time and experimentation we found what seems to work best for me — a combination of an antidepressant and a second-generation antipsychotic (a different one than I’m on now). The effectiveness of that combination lasted until the death of my father in 2013, and the feelings of rage and resentment that arose in me. I don’t know if any medication(s) could have withstood that storm.

Depression is hard-wired into my DNA. Thanks, Dad. If someone has a parent or sibling with major depression, that person probably has a 2 or 3 times greater risk of developing depression compared with others — 20-30% instead of 10%.

My father never got treatment or took medication. He also rarely left his apartment, never in the last year of his life. I’m terrified of ending up as the female version of him and I have to admit that has been part of what has motivated me all these years and what continues to motivate me to be adherent to my medication and to push myself at work and at everything else I do.

One of my typical (not favorite) thoughts is “there are no guarantees,” and I know depression could return at any time, with no specific trigger needed. The further out I get into a sustained remission, the sharper that terror strikes in my heart.

I hope, I pray, and I work my ass off.

© Andrea Rosenhaft

Source: © Andrea Rosenhaft

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