ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Antipsychotic Medications and Unfairness

Jack Bragen
Friday March 18, 2016 - 11:57:00 AM

Antipsychotic medications can cause breast enlargement in men, facial hair in women, involuntary movements of the mouth face and neck and upper body that are irreversible, diabetes, weight gain, and muscle rigidity. Less often, antipsychotic medications can cause loss of white blood cells [potentially fatal], and, in some instances, sudden, unexplained death.  

At the very least, these medications will almost always make a patient miserable, due to the drugged feeling, body stiffness, "motor restlessness" dry mouth, and medication-induced depression. 

The above problems are very serious. Psychiatric medications are useful in combating symptoms of mental illness that are severe, that cause dangerous behavior, and that make an individual unable to function in society. Yet, the mental health treatment system will subscribe and even force these medications on a person immediately, as a first line of treatment.  

Don't get me wrong, I am grateful for the fact that I have been treated for my severe psychiatric problems that could have led to long term incarceration or could have caused me to be killed due to unsafe behavior. I would never advise someone in treatment for a psychiatric illness to go off medication against medical advice—doing so is a big mistake.  

However, these medications are serious business, and should not be used unless they are truly needed. The psychiatric consumer should be lauded for the bravery they exhibit in getting through mental illness and for the huge sacrifice they are making in taking these life-damaging medications.  

Instead, we are treated as though depraved, "developmentally disabled," lacking in awareness, and essentially subhuman. A mental health practitioner once didn't give me credit for being able on my own to make a cake from a cake mix. Over a period of more than thirty years, I have been routinely presumed stupid, have been treated condescendingly, and have been complimented when I have done something as well as a "normal" adult.  

Many persons with mental illness have sustained severe brain damage, either from the medication, the illness, a combination of both, or from some other cause. Those of us who appear to be intact and functioning seem to get sabotaged whenever we try to become successful at something.  

Sometimes, it is our illness that is the source of the sabotage. We might be unable to sustain becoming a successful person due to the responsibility, stature and work that it entails. In other instances, numerous difficult events take place within a short period, and we go into "tilt" mode, like an offended pinball machine.  

Regardless of success or no success, we can't try to fight the factors that keep us coming back to mental health treatment. The illness will not go away on its own. If we try to go without medication, not only does the illness come back, but our deterioration is accelerated by noncooperation of the mental health treatment system in our attempt to do without medication. And before we know it, we have relapsed. And yet, is a big mistake to stop taking medication and lie about it.  

While it is unfair that the illness, the treatment system, family, and the courts may be forcing medication on us, it is even more unfair that we may have an illness that will worsen if we try to go without treatment.  

What are the "perks" of taking medication? We get a modicum of liberty, we stave off a disease that threatens to rob us of our mind, and we get at least a chance of having a salvageable life, a chance. And that's all we get. Unfair? Yes. Part of the human predicament? Yes.  

* * * 

Just to remind you again, while trying not to be too annoying, my new memoir is available on Amazon and can be found by clicking here.