When you have a broken leg you’re given a cast. When you have an ear infection you’re given a pill. No one questions it, no one says that you’ll get over it without the help of the medication you’ve been provided with. So why is that any different from mental illness? “It’s all in your head!” Yes, that’s right, it’s all in the head. In patients with depression, there is a lack of serotonin, “a natural substance in the brain that helps in the brain that helps maintain mental balance” in a person and many medications such as, Fluoxetine or more commonly known as Prozac, increases the amount of serotonin that helps keep moods under control. Though the medication is still just as effective as, say a medication to cure period cramps such as Midol, it does take a while to kick in because a neuro sickness is much more intense and since it’s located in the brain, it could take the brain longer to adjust to the new way thoughts are being processed.
The stigma surrounding mental illness and medication stands in the way of proper mental health care. People without mental illness, those who support the stigma, are those who tell the mentally ill that it’s all in their head and that they are going to get over it eventually. Would you say the same thing to someone with diabetes? Most likely not because diabetes is a serious disease. “But it can be medically proven!” Yes, and so can mental disorders. According to Natasha Tracy in Biological Evidence for Depression – Mental Illness Exists, it is proven consistently that genetic factors are the reason for 30%-40% of cases of Major Depressive Disorder. Meanwhile the other 60%-70% is due to stressors in life. There’s also a hormone called cortisol that is linked to stress. Normally, once the stress has passed the cortisol decreases, though for those suffering from depression, their cortisol levels remain permanently elevated. This hormone can be measured in saliva. It repeatedly proves to be a major source of Major Depressive Disorder.
It has been known for people to compare mental illness to a physical injury when the stigma is presented. Stigma holders say things such as, “A broken leg shows up on an x-ray! Depression doesn’t!” Actually, yes it does. Neuroimaging of Depression proves that “structural abnormalities and decreased brain volumes have consistently been found in several areas of the brain of those with MDD (Major Depressive Disorder). Though brain volumes in patients with untreated depression shrinks with length of the illness, the loss cannot be explained. It can be stopped or reversed with treatment. Even though these brain abnormalities found in neuroimaging can decrease, that doesn’t mean that the patient is cured. A group of neurotransmitters called Monoamines have been studied and its counterparts (Serotonin, Dopamine, and Noradrenaline) have proven to increase the concentration of monoamines and been found to have antidepressant effects. Although there is research that supports the claim that dopamine levels are always low in depressive individuals. However, there are new antidepressants which are promising in “hard-to-treat depression.”
Let’s get technical here. What are antidepressants exactly? They are a medication used to treat depression, obviously. However, they are also used to treat anxiety, pain, insomnia, and, though not FDA-approved, they are used to treat ADHD in some adults. Everyone can respond differently to the medication, so testing out different ones is what some people do before finding the right medication that doesn’t make them want to die. These reasons aren’t known yet. Then as for other disorders they have their own medications. Anti-anxiety medications help with symptoms such as panic attacks and extreme fear or worry, and are commonly known as benzodiazepines. They’re known as secondary treatments when, in the case of panic attacks or social anxiety disorder, SSRIs and antidepressants come first to them. Next is stimulants to increase alertness, attention, and energy, as well as increasing blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration, mostly prescribed to treat patients diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). More heavily advanced drugs are the antipsychotics, mainly used to treat psychosis, loss of touch with reality, hallucinations, or delusions. They can be used to treat schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, psychotic depression, and can be combined with other medications to treat delirium, dementia, ADHD, severe depression, eating disorders, PTSD, OCD, and generalized anxiety disorder. And finally we have mood stabilizers to treat bipolar disorder and mood swings associated with other disorders. One stabilizer, lithium, is approved to treat mania, and studies have shown for lithium to have anti-suicide benefits. They can also healthily treat depression, schizoaffective disorder, disorders of impulse control, and certain childhood mental illnesses. As you can see, there is a lot of eclectic medication used to treat mental disorders, most of which are proven to be extremely effective.
Medication in mental illnesses can mean so much more than just medicine to stop the sadness, or the voices, or the panic, etc. It’s something necessary for those mentally ill people to get through their days. Without their medication, it can be hard for some of those to get out of bed in the morning, not to mention getting in their car and driving to school and/or work. Years without medication can lead to self-harm, damaging thoughts, suicidal thoughts, and the destruction of relationships with others. Medication can also be therapy. A specific disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, can only be treated by DBT, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, therapy since no medication has been discovered yet. Medication also means drugs. Not drugs like mushrooms, but marijuana is a great medication for anxious and depressive patients. But unfortunately people hear the word “medication” and their mind goes to “drugs” which, because of stigma, leads to negative thoughts about the person taking the medication. That’s not true though, because the definition of a drug is “a medicine or other substance which has a physiological effect when ingested or otherwise introduced to the body. The stigma against drugs is that they are all awful and should be avoided at all costs. This is really only to drugs like mushrooms, heroin, acid, etc. Further on, this disproves that medication is a bad thing, and proves that it can be helpful to those who need it, who desperately need it.
Tracy, Natasha. “Biological Evidence for Depression – Mental Illness Exists | Breaking Bipolar.” HealthyPlace. America’s Mental Health Channel, 7 Apr. 2011. Web. 06 Mar. 2017.
“Mental Health Medications.” National Institutes of Health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Oct. 2016. Web. 06 Mar. 2017.