Trigger warning: Talk of suicide and suicidal thoughts/emotions
The use of psychiatric drugs (psych drugs) to treat mental health concerns can be a hot topic. There is an internal and external stigma attached to taking these drugs. There are numerous posts written by individuals with lived experience stating their reasons for using psych drugs to encourage understanding and acceptance. The side of psych drugs we do not usually hear about is from those who choose to not take psych drugs or are unable to take psych drugs. This is another stigmatized perspective with some of the strongest opponents coming from individuals within the mental health community who say the reasons for not taking psych drugs potentially add to the stigma and create fear.
This post is not to tell people to stop taking psych drugs. If these drugs work for you then please continue to use them. This post is for those who do not have psych drugs as a tool in their wellness toolkit. This post is for those who feel their psych drug(s) are causing disturbing side effects. This post is for people who desire education as to why psych drugs are not for everyone.
Generally speaking here are some reasons why people may not take psych drugs:
- Serious/unwanted side effects
- It’s not what they want/they would prefer other wellness means
- They cannot afford to be on psych drugs
- No access to psych drugs
- They don’t need to be on them
I, personally, stopped taking psych drugs because of serious side effects.
When I was 16 years old, I was put on Prozac, an antidepressant, for depression. I was told to expect the typical side effects that can occur with most drugs such as nausea. After a few months on Prozac and a few increases in my dose, I was not improving. I felt an increase in my sadness. The psychiatrist added Zyprexa, an antipsychotic, to “help me sleep”. Within a month I found myself suicidal like I had never been before. Before psych drugs, I had casual, passing thoughts of suicide. Now, I found myself fantasizing and planning my death. I thought it was a sign that I was so sick that psych drugs wouldn’t help me. After being on these drugs for 5 months, an ex-boyfriend triggered me and I experienced my first and only attempt to end my life. After this attempt, the psychiatrist switched me to Cipralex, another antidepressant. I felt well enough on Cipralex to eventually decide that I wanted to stop using psych drugs. I would not use psych drugs again for a number of years.
In university, when I became active in radical mental health activism, I learned about the secret “rare” antidepressant side effect that psychiatrists, doctors and the many in the mental health community do not like to talk about: antidepressants can cause and increase suicidality.
In 2004, the FDA placed a black box warning on all antidepressants because of concerns that the medications increase risk of suicidal thoughts and behavior in youths; in 2006, the warning was extended to include young adults (up to age 26). The FDA based its black box warning on results of its meta-analyses of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) conducted in pediatric and adult psychiatric and nonpsychiatric populations.
-The Psychiatric Times, The Relationship Between Antidepressant Initiation and Suicide Risk, December 31 2014.
The psychiatrist never told me this was a possible side effect. What I found worse was that very few people believed that I had experienced this side effect given the suicide rates of people with mental health issues. It didn’t matter what research I presented, many professionals and peers shrugged me off and scolded me for trying to cause panic. The denial of my experience, especially by my peers stung. The small group of people who validated me or could relate to my experience were my safe haven.
When I was around 23 years old I decided to try psych drugs again. I felt like I was stuck in the management of my emotional issues. I created a log with information about my physical and mental health before starting psych drugs. I wanted to be able to make note of any dramatic changes. It was important for me to document that while I was struggling emotionally, I was not suicidal. I started Effexor, an antidepressant, initially on 37.5 mg and then 75 mg. It happened again. I was plunged into such a dark place that my partner was afraid to leave me alone. My partner encouraged me to stop taking Effexor as it was clearly not worth the risk. I agreed and stopped cold turkey. My partner supported me through withdrawal. I came out of the darkness and haven’t felt that low since.
This is why I can’t take medication for my mental illness.
Again, if you are alive because of these drugs I am happy for you! I am glad you are here! This is not the story for everyone.
This is also not a matter of someone being more mentally well because they are not on psych drugs. Being on or off psych drugs is not always an indicator of wellness. In the case of not being on psych drugs, it can be more of an indicator of personal choice or other medical, financial or access issues.
We must accept everyone’s wellness journey. We must be careful to not pass judgment just because someone’s story does not fit the mold. Is that not what society does to us already?
About Kristen Bellows
Kristen lives in Southern Ontario with her partner and their new baby boy! She identifies as Mad and believes that her emotional differences are a part of who she is. Kristen is a registered social work, working as a dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) skills group facilitator. She is also training to become a birth and postpartum doula. Since giving birth, Kristen has become interested in exploring how mental health issues intersect with motherhood. Kristen identifies as Mad and believes that her emotional differences are a part of who she is. She loves cats, reading, singing, pickles and learning. You can read more of Kristen's blog posts on her personal blog www.prideinmadness.wordpress.com