Week 6 – Family to Family Series – NAMI
There are almost as many different types of medications for mental illness as there are diagnoses and the side effects can be wide-ranging.
Many people with brain disorders struggle with starting and maintaining a solid medication regiment.
The more information we have as a family, the better we can support our loved one in finding the right medicines and encourage them to stay consistent with the plan.
Why is Acceptance to Meds so Difficult?
If we get a sinus infection, hurt in an accident, or even a more serious medical condition we do not hesitate to take the prescribed drugs to help us feel better and heal. So why is it so difficult for those with a mental illness do the same with their symptoms?
Admitting the Need
Most of us know when we are physically sick. There is a large portion of those who are mentally ill that refuse to accept there is anything wrong. They try to convince themselves it is a phase (or maybe someone in their life told them that). The symptoms on the worse end of the disorder spectrum cause the person to believe it is everyone else around them that has a problem, and they themselves are perfectly normal.
Not being able to accept the fact there is a biological and/or chemical imbalance that needs medical attention is a huge obstacle.
Afraid of Long-Term Use
With the exception of terminal conditions, most of the medicines we take are to treat a condition and then we stop. We become better, our health restored and we move on with life. This is not the case with medications for a brain disorder. Your family member will most likely need to be on a monitored regiment for the rest of their life. The feeling of being tied to a bottle (or bottles) to be able to function daily forever is just too much for some people to wrap their minds around.
The Side Effects
If you think reading the side effects on a bottle of cough syrup or antibiotic is bad, try reading the side effects for psychiatric medicine! It is very depressing and unnerving. And the worst part is, depending on the specific chemical makeup of your family member, their side effects may be different than anyone else’s. The regiment for one person with Bipolar I might work great for them and totally incapacitate another.
The trial and error of this medicine, then that medicine then increasing the dosage then decreasing the dosage; it all seems pointless and frustrating especially for someone already struggling emotionally. To top it all off, it can take weeks to determine if the medicines will actually work. Sometimes the symptoms get worse before they get better! This can totally throw your loved one into a tailspin and make them want to just forget medication at all.
The Highs and the Lows
The proper drug regiment for depression will alleviate the feelings of hopelessness and improve overall function in a positive way. The result is somewhat different when treating mania. That person is excited, hyper, buoyant. They feel elated, inspired and able to conquer the world.
They may also hear voices, be unreasonable and have a false sense of reality. But when they are in the ‘zone’ they feel invincible. The medicines used to curb all of that mania also curbs their joys, inspirations, and excitement.
This is why artists and very creative individuals with mental illness may refuse medication. They say it dries up their creative juices and ideas and reduces them to dull, lifeless, boring people. It flattens their personality and many really hate that.
How to Help
The best way for both you and your loved one to understand the different medications and their side effects is to do research. Talk to their doctor. Look up credible information online.
Be cautious when dealing with doctors unfamiliar with this type of medication. A psychiatrist is always your best resource.
Also, be very careful with the ‘opinions’ of others. Remember each individual will react differently and just because Aunt Susie did really great (or really bad) of a particular medicine does not mean your loved one will have the same outcome.
Start a medication log. Your family member may be unable or unmotivated to do this, so it is in everyone’s best interest if you can take on this task. Write down the medication, dosage, when it should be taken, etc. Keep track of all side effects, the good and the bad, as the days progress.
If the good outweighs the bad, it might be a keeper. If the side effects are too severe or no discernable improvement is noted, it may be time to try something else or increase the dose.
Keeping detailed and accurate notes on a daily basis will tremendously help the doctor on each visit. It is easy to forget or speak in general terms when sitting in a doctor’s office, but having a daily journal will provide invaluable information as the next steps are planned.
If you have been following this series, you will see a common thread of encouraging our family members as they struggle with their mental illness. This is not always easy because many of their symptoms cause them to lash out at us and be challenging, but as often and as much as you can, continue to encourage them in the right direction.
Provide positive feedback when they agree to take their medication and help them formulate a plan for remembering by setting reminders. If they take more than one or at different times of the day, prepare a pill organizer so they know exactly what to take on what day/time.
Reassure your loved one that if they have any questions or concerns that you will do your best to find answers and that you are committed to seeing them through the ups and downs while deciding the best course of action.
Unfortunately, relapse is common. A person starts to feel better and decides they don’t need the medicine after all. The side effects are too difficult to handle, so they refuse to take it. Whatever the reason, once they voluntarily quit their medication a relapse is most likely in their future.
This can be heartbreaking for us to see, especially if we thought it was helping. As adults, we cannot force the medicine in them, and often we have to watch them deteriorate again right in front of us.
This has always been a challenge for me and my daughter. One of her phobias is taking medicine. Any type of medicine. She has a profound fear of medication and even hesitates to take it for physical conditions. She will even refuse a medication that has helped her in the past if it looks different or is packaged in a new way.
Having her commit to taking medication to help her mental illness has been quite a struggle. She would start, then stop. Have a relapse, start again then stop. She is so afraid of side effects, the first time she felt anything ‘odd’, she would refuse to ever take that one particular kind again.
Fortunately, she has now been following a prescribed regiment for several months. We started from scratch and are moving very slowly with any changes or increases. There are times when I am frustrated at the pace, but I am thankful she has agreed to continue. That’s all any of us can hope for.
The Bottom Line
Medicines are around to help us feel better, recover from illness and in some cases provide life-sustaining support. Great advances have been made in the area of help for mental disorders. It can completely alter your family member’s outlook and prospect for a more productive life.
Research, patience and a hands-on approach with your loved one will go a long way in convincing them of the benefits. Don’t lose hope and don’t lose sight of the goal to enable them to be at peace and calm their inner turmoil.
And as always…..
Hope With Abandon