There is an awful lot of talk about medication in mental health. After all, when you have a mental illness, one wants to get back to a mentally healthy state. I’ll skip over the philosophical questions about what really is healthy and what is ill. Rather, I’m interested in the question of at what point do we stop medicating our illness?
The question was raised to me by my girlfriend. She pointed out that I tend to rely on my medication to control my moods. Feeling anxious, take a klonopin. Nearing panic, take xanax. Depressed? Cigarettes and coffee. Manic? Extra antipsychotics. Psychiatrists provide us with differing arsenals of medication to control our moods in various ways. This is of course a necessary thing to keep us within our bounds. Having bipolar means I need to clip the tops and bottoms off of my moods. But that wasn’t the question she was criticizing. It’s that I have too much control over my moods. I don’t ride through them, I fight them as though they are an alien presence.
Both of us have different behaviors toward our mental health. I tend to fall on the side of pharmaceuticals to control my moods toward my ideal mental health. But she rides the wave. She lets her moods rise and fall and accepts them. She’s even all but rejected medication. She takes a minimal amount of antidepressants to cut off the suicidal thoughts and that’s it. Instead of going further than that, she allows herself to fall into depressions as just a part of her natural rhythm. For her, being mentally healthy is sort of like living a healthy life style. One eats well, exercises, but gets sick and doesn’t fuss unless antibiotics are needed. She takes her antibiotics, but if she gets sick she doesn’t reach for the nearest cold medicine, she just stays in bed and lets it pass. To stretch the metaphor, some of us do need our antibiotics, but to what degree do we just accept getting sick as our natural state of being healthy? So I take her question to mean more about that. Is it mentally healthy to constantly attempt to control moods using medication? Or is there some point that riding the wave is what is supposed to be mentally healthy.
I don’t have the answer to that question of which is healthier. Nor am I proposing that these are mutually exclusive ways of approaching our mental health. In fact, I think we need a bit of both. But the question is still out there, what is healthier? Control oriented, or acceptance oriented approaches? And this ties into defining what we mean by mental health. What do we consider to be mentally healthy. After we figure that out, I think that we can start to determine just how much medication we need and when to stop. So this will end more as a question than an answer, are you an acceptance person who lets the sick days come and go and try to prevent them from getting too bad, or are you a control person like me, where I try to stop getting sick ass much as possible? At what point do we stop using medication for our illness? And which do you think defines a healthier mental state?
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