How do I know if I need medication? Three things to ask yourself.

Medication for mental health issues continues to be a fraught topic for many. But the truth is, medication can be incredibly helpful for some people.

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Nov 12, 2021 PUBLISHED
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Searching for the right mental health support can be a daunting and often difficult task. Do I need a therapist? If so, what kind? How often should I go? And what about medication? Do I need that, too?

For a large portion of the population, medication is a sensitive topic. And although we’ve made huge strides in mental health awareness, there’s still a long way to go. In fact, perhaps the stigma around needing and using medication remains as strong as it was 10 or even 15 years ago.

But the truth is that, when used correctly, the appropriate medication can have a huge positive impact on a person. 

It’s estimated that 12.7% of people over the age of 12 take antidepressants to manage their depression symptoms, up from only 8% in 1999.

According to Psychology Today, “As demonized as antidepressants have come to be by many, we must not forget the number of lives that those same medications have saved and the quality of lives they have improved.”

Ben Caldwell, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) and education director at SimplePractice, says there are three factors you should consider when deciding whether to add medication to your mental health plan:

1. How severe are your mental health symptoms? 

Mild conditions can often be treated effectively without medication, while more severe conditions that interfere with your ability to perform routine activities may be improved by adding medication into your plan. 

2. Is therapy working? 

If you're going to therapy and not getting the results you want, consider why your current treatment plan isn’t working. Have you tried behavior modifications as suggested by your therapist? 

Or, do you feel like your therapist isn’t giving you the tools you need? A poor match with a therapist might be resolved simply by switching to one who is a better fit for you. 

But if you agree with your therapist about the changes that need to happen in your life—and are struggling to implement them—then a medication discussion might be in order.

3. How do you feel about medication? 

Therapists and doctors alike will respect your wishes and preferences when it comes to mental health treatment. They'll offer you the benefit of their wisdom and experience, but ultimately, the decision is yours. Some people are eager to try any treatment that might help them. Others consider medication to be more of a last resort.

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How do I ask for help?

There's no wrong way to bring up the topic of medication with your therapist. You can begin by sharing your thoughts and questions on the subject. Keep in mind, though, that your therapist is unlikely to be able to recommend a specific medication. 

Except for in rare cases, most therapists are not licensed to prescribe medication so, legally, they can't recommend specific medications or dosages. 

Instead, they will probably refer you to a psychiatrist who is equipped and licensed to prescribe meds. They may also suggest you speak to your doctor to get their input as they are most familiar with your general health. 

If I’m already on medication and want to go off, can I stop taking my antidepressants? 

Maybe, but only with the supervision of a doctor. It cannot be stressed enough: any changes made to a medical plan should only be done at the advice of and with the supervision of a medical professional.

You should also discuss this decision—and your reasons for it—with your therapist. If your doctor agrees that it’s a good idea, make a plan with their help to reduce or cease medication.

Just as you wouldn’t stop taking blood pressure or heart medication without the supervision of a doctor, stopping any kind of medication for mental and behavioral health is extremely dangerous.Your brain and psyche are just as much a part of you as your heart or lungs. 

Article originally published Nov 12, 2021.

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