When it comes to mental health, there unfortunately remains a negative stigma associated with using medication to help manage any associated symptoms to improve overall quality of life. You'd never expect someone with asthma to go without their inhaler, or someone with high blood pressure to forgo their prescriptions. So why does society insist on shaming those whose mental health can benefit from medication?
While that friend who tells you to "just go take a walk" to feel better may mean well, it's often not that simple, and it's unfair to try and reduce other people's complex and varying experiences to such a simple solution.
To examine and further understand what can be done to normalize the use of medication to ease mental health symptoms, West Michigan Woman spoke with Dr. Gregory Mallis, Psychologist in the Southwest Clinic of Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services.
Dr. Mallis believes this unfortunate stigma gets in the way of some people utilizing very effective and potentially life-changing medications.
"I often try to frame the discussion of medication for mental health as similar to something like diabetes," he said. "We wouldn't stigmatize someone who needs insulin because their body doesn't produce or use the insulin the way others do, or the way their body needs. It's the same with mental health issues. Your body is not producing the right number of neurotransmitters, or isn't using them effectively, so we use medication to help with that."
Medications can help improve the lives of those who struggle with their mental health by providing assistance with biological functions that may not be firing as desired.
"Certain medications can help the body to respond less to anxiety provoking situations, leaving more ability and opportunity for the individual to use any coping skills they may have learned or practiced," Dr. Mallis explained. "While some medications need to be taken regularly to keep them working effectively in your body, other medications can be taken as needed to help with different issues."
One of the misconceptions people tend to have about taking medications to help improve their mental health is that it's the "easy way out" or that you're "giving up" on trying to manage the issue on your own. That couldn't be further from the truth. Oftentimes, medication is used in conjunction with therapy or coping skills.
"The two different methods tend to help each other, and I often recommend that someone taking medication for mental health concerns also be in therapy to some degree to learn and practice additional beneficial coping skills," Dr. Mallis said.
If you're curious about whether medication might be right for managing your own mental health concerns, Dr. Mallis suggests speaking with your medical and/or mental health provider to learn more.
"There are genetic tests available that help to show what medications might work, and which would be most effective given an individual's particular genetic makeup," he explained. "If you are struggling, there's value in checking into all of your options for finding relief and managing mental health issues."
It's perfectly normal to feel nervous or anxious about bringing something like this up to your doctor. Just remember to be honest about what you're feeling and what you've felt has (or hasn't) worked in the past. A medical care provider's goal is to help you feel your best and find the right treatment for your individual needs. Though everyone's emotions and paths are different, know that you're not alone.
Ultimately, it's completely all right if medications help you to be all right in the face of your mental health symptoms.
Dr. Mallis emphasized, "The more we normalize medication for mental health issues similar to how we view medication for diabetes or high blood pressure or migraines, the better off we will be as a population and a community."
Written by Sarah Suydam, Managing Editor for West Michigan Woman.
This article originally appeared in the Jun/Jul '22 issue of West Michigan Woman.