On Mental Illness: The Sacrifices of Being Medicated

By Jack Bragen
Wednesday May 11, 2011 - 09:34:00 AM

It seems baffling to many people that persons with mental illnesses often resist taking medications that are prescribed. I have addressed some of this in a previous edition of this column. To put it succinctly, it takes a very brave and steadfast person to voluntarily take psychiatric medication; and this is for a number of reasons. 

Choosing to be medicated involves sacrificing a portion of one’s physical health. The newer antipsychotic, antidepressant, and mood stabilizing medications, while they do not cause as much immediate suffering as the older medications, often cause extreme weight gain and diabetes. This is an unfortunate fact that coincidentally causes higher profits for the drug companies and the medical establishment. This is something that also adds additional restrictions to the lives of those who are already very burdened. 

Being medicated is a direct cause of physical and emotional suffering. The side effects of medications are different for each one, but there is a lot of overlap. We don’t get “high” off of most medications—on the contrary. Some antipsychotic medications cause a body stiffness that makes movement more difficult, and cause a person to feel that they are in a drugged fog, from which there is no end. Numerous medications cause slowness of reflexes and of movement. This adds a level of difficulty when someone would like to get some exercise. Exercising is of utmost importance for counteracting the risk factors introduced by medications. 

(I do not have space here to cover all possible side effects of all psychiatric medications.) 

Additionally, medications can cause a frequent, if not constant, “bad mood.” This is due to the depressing effect of some of the medications. Numerous types of medications can cause dry mouth and tremors. Dry mouth can contribute to tooth decay. Tremors make a person more likely to stand out as someone different. 

Medications, for all of the above reasons, may shorten the lifespan of the person taking them. 

In order to take medications, it is not absolutely necessary to admit that one’s brain has a flaw. But if one doesn’t acknowledge such a neurological flaw, there isn’t a reason for taking these drugs. Such an admission requires courage and self-worth as well as an ability to accept oneself unconditionally. It is harder for an insecure personality to admit a flaw. Being medicated, then, involves sacrificing the perfect image of oneself. 

Being medicated, if you were to factor out the benefit of treating an illness, makes it more difficult to hold a job. Side effects can often interfere with a person’s efficiency level, and can make a person slower at some tasks then one’s coworkers. Medication can also make it more difficult to show up for work. It can make a person require more sleep and it can hinder a person’s “get up and go” which is needed in order to go to a job. By lowering self-esteem, being medicated can interfere with some people’s self-confidence. Lacking enough confidence can certainly interfere with work. 

Being medicated involves the admission of needing someone else’s help. This can be painful for someone who would rather perceive his or her self as invincible. It is an admission of some degree of helplessness; an admission that one is not all-powerful, and some may believe it is an admission of weakness. Such admissions require bravery, and trust. It creates a person of a gentler personality who is less narcissistic. 

Medications cause a person to give up comfort. 

There are a lot of negatives to taking psychiatric medications. If someone takes them, it is likely that that person has a very good reason for doing so. A lot of younger or less developed psychiatric patients take medications involuntarily, either through a court order, or by an agreement that the patient has been forced into. The mental health treatment system isn’t necessarily doing this because the doctors and other professionals are simply sadistic individuals who get off on torturing people. 

The only thing worse than taking medication, in my view, is to have an uncontrolled major psychiatric illness that runs its course, and in the process of doing so, destroys the mind and spirit, while leaving behind a “healthy” body which becomes an empty husk.