Medication: Myths and Facts

Will medication get me addicted? What about the side effects? We discuss these and other common misconceptions

Aaheli Dasgupta

While most of us are familiar with how medication for physical illnesses work, we may not always be aware of how psychiatric medication works. Some common ways in which psychiatric medication is talked about include concerns about them having side effects, or changing the user's personality. We address some common misconceptions here.

Myth: Once I start, I will have to continue taking medications for a lifetime as these are addictive.
Fact:
 Different medications are used to treat different mental health conditions. Most medication for common mental illnesses is not addictive. A psychiatrist will take into consideration your symptoms and history of illness before prescribing any medication. Your medication will be prescribed for a certain duration and based on your progress, they will be tapered off.

Myth: I will feel instantly better if I take medication. They are ‘happy pills’.
Fact:
 When we take medication, there is a tendency to look for immediate results. Psychiatric medication is not meant to make you 'happy' but help you cope with the intense bouts of emotions that you feel. And as with other medication, psychiatric medication might take some time to start working. Certain doses of medication can make you feel a certain way; you may feel different with a change in the dose. It is important for you to discuss with your psychiatrist and tell them how a certain medication is affecting you. 

Myth: If one medication doesn’t work at the beginning then others may not work either.
Fact:
It may take some time some time for your medication to start working. After a while, the dose may need to be adjusted to better suit your needs. In some cases, the medication may not work, and a change in prescription may be required. It's similar to a situation in which one antibiotic doesn't work, and trying a different one may prove more effective.

Myth: Psychiatric medicines have many side effects.
Fact:
Any medication will have side effects, irrespective of the reason you are taking them for. With any medication, your body needs to get used to the active compounds that are present in the medicine. This may take time, during which your body may react in a certain way: nausea, dizziness and fatigue. However with time, the effect often tapers off. Ensure you talk to your doctor about what side effects to look out for.

Myth: Medication will change my personality/identity.
Fact:
 Medication cannot change your personality. What you may notice is the reduction in frequency of the intense feelings you may have had in the past due to your illness.

Myth: If I take psychiatric medication, it means I am seriously ill and can never get better.
Fact:
 Some mental health issues are caused because there is an imbalance in neurotransmitters. Medication helps in balancing this out. If your symptoms are severe, the medication will help you carry out your day to day function. With a combination of medication and therapy, you can, over a period of time, get better at managing your symptoms and recognising potential triggers.

Myth: I can stop my course whenever I feel that I am doing better.
Fact:
 Just like with antibiotics, psychiatric medication is prescribed by course. It is important to consult with your psychiatrist before stopping medication. If you stop your medication abruptly, it may be difficult for your body to adjust to the change in a smooth way and may result in relapse.

Myth: If  I am taking psychiatric medicines, I don't need talk therapy.
Fact:
Both medication and talk therapy are different means to treat mental health issues. Mental health issues can be caused by a combination of biological and environmental factors. So while medication can address the biological aspect of the mental health issue, talk therapy can address the environmental aspect of the mental health issue. Talk to your psychiatrist to check they recommend medication and therapy for you.

Also watch our video on psychiatric medication. 

This list has been collated with inputs from Dr Santosh Loganthan, psychiratrist, NIMHANS, Bangalore.