ON MENTAL ILLNESS: The Issue of Compliance: Weighing Side Effects Against Symptoms

By Jack Bragen
Thursday July 19, 2012 - 08:34:00 PM

If you think about it, the term "noncompliance," applied to persons with mental illness, implies that the medication is some kind of punishment. Or it at least implies that taking it is something the patient is being made to do, and wouldn't do if given a choice. 

If these medications are so great, then why must they be forced on people? 

Psychiatric and other prescription medications are not substances to trifle with. Nearly all of these medicines have the potential for a bad physical reaction. Different medications have the potential for correspondingly different dangerous reactions. 

Concerning unpredictable and possibly fatal reactions from medications, the newer psychiatric medications seem to perform worse than the older substances. For the older medications, the risks are genuine, yet most of them are known. However, for the newer medications, some of the side effects can sneak up on a person. Most of the newer antipsychotic medications can cause extreme weight gain and type II diabetes. 

For example, a person could be prescribed Zyprexa (a commonly prescribed antipsychotic) and could be caught by surprise: in less than a year, their weight had doubled. 

The older antipsychotic medications are known for the possible side effect called "Tardive Dyskinesia." This term describes uncontrollable movements of the face, tongue, neck and upper body. This condition often is not reversible even upon discontinuing the medication. These involuntary movements can be debilitating as well as disfiguring. 

It was originally claimed that the newer class of antipsychotic medications (which are misleadingly called "atypical antipsychotics") didn't cause Tardive Dyskinesia. However, Tardive Dyskinesia can take years to develop; the newer drugs merely hadn't been available for use long enough to find out that they too cause this awful condition. 

Antipsychotic medications can resemble a chemical strait jacket. This is because they very often cause muscle stiffness, difficulty with movement, restriction of emotional expression, difficulty with reading, dry mouth, and restlessness. These are some very common side effects that make taking medication very unpleasant. 

(These side effects may ease up after several years of taking medications, as the body and mind will sometimes adapt to medication.) 

The alternative to taking these seemingly awful medications is untreated mental illness. And this is no walk in the park. If a schizophrenic person believed they were suffering because of being medicated, the suffering of a fully-blown psychotic episode is ten times worse or more. The suffering that a psychotic episode produces for the person with mental illness, at least by my experience, is worse than almost anything else that a person could experience. And there is the sense that this runaway train will never stop. 

The problem doesn't wear off after a while-instead, the mind becomes more and more disorganized, the thoughts become more jumbled, and it can lead to catatonia, eventually. This is if the person hasn't died from acting upon delusions. The longer a person remains off of medication and psychotic, the worse their future prognosis will become upon the medication being reinstated. 

Think about it. If you had a broken leg, you probably would want to have it in a splint. If you contracted Syphilis, you probably would want to get your shot of Penicillin, since the human body is not able to cure itself of this awful disease. And the same goes with being schizophrenic and being medicated. Medical science periodically discovers treatments for sicknesses that have plagued the human race for eons. Doing without some of them can only be categorized as folly.