by Beth Granet, PsyD
Knowing how to ask for help with your own or your child’s mental well-being can be an intimidating process. With the recent challenges of adjusting to life following the height of a pandemic, many of us have had difficulty with navigating this transition. We may have started to feel unhappy, stressed with work, academically overwhelmed, or dissatisfied in general. Although we may feel these things, the decision to ask for professional help requires research, extra time, confiding in others, and a lot of persistence. If you have gone through some of these daunting steps and you or your child have begun to see a therapist, you have probably already achieved some relief! But, what happens next?
Many people start to feel better or see improvements in themselves or loved ones after only a short time participating in therapy. Sometimes however, weeks or months go by with only slight progress in mood, school performance, or overall quality of life. There may come a point where either you or your therapist begin to consider meeting with a psychiatrist to discuss medication options. Some of us are open to this idea early on while others see medicine as a last-ditch effort. Regardless, here is a list of potential avenues to try out before introducing medical interventions:
- Therapy: talking to an unbiased professional about your concerns is a great place to start!
- Exercise: our minds and bodies are connected, so a healthy body can help make for healthy thoughts
- Getting good sleep: practicing good sleep hygiene can really improve mood and day-to-day life
- Enjoyable hobbies: there are many other therapeutic outlets such as writing, journaling, creative activities, or listening to music that may be helpful for channeling negative thoughts and emotions
- Meditation/mindfulness: being present and taking time for yourself even for just a few minutes per day can be a powerful coping strategy
- Learning/studying strategies: some learning challenges can be greatly improved with more individual attention, a homework routine, or discovering new ways to process information. Many of these approaches can be taught by teachers, school counselors, or therapists
One sign that it might be time to consider medication is that you have already tried all of the above suggestions for yourself or your child and have not seen the desired changes. It is imperative to remember that everything takes time. Therapy or other potentially useful activities can take weeks of regular practice to even start working. Additionally, the results you can expect to see will be commensurate with your efforts and commitment to doing things differently. However, if you feel that you or your loved one have been devoting energy to the therapy process or other suggestions on how to make changes, and you are still not seeing results, perhaps the extra support of medication could be helpful. Also, many mood or learning problems are caused by different chemicals in our brains that medication could help to target that therapy alone would not fully reach. There is a lot of evidence that therapy and medication together could be even more effective than either of these options by themselves. This is especially true when attempting to help with depression or anxiety.
If you think that medication might be a good option for you or your child, you probably have a lot of questions about which one to choose, side effects, cost, and how long someone should stay on medication. The first steps to addressing this uncertainty or confusion is to talk to the people you trust. Speak with other parents or friends who have tried medications before and ask for honest psychiatrist reviews and recommendations. Therapists also typically work with and refer to doctors that can prescribe psychotropic medicines. So, asking your psychologist or therapist for their opinion and recommended doctors is another great idea. If you are generally curious about where to start, you can find a very broad description of different options listed below:
- Antidepressants: these medicines are used to treat feelings of overwhelming sadness and other depression symptoms such as a loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed or hopelessness. Even within this category, there are different types of medications.
- Anxiolytics: used for anxiety and insomnia to help you calm down and feel more relaxed. Can also be helpful for those who suffer from panic attacks. Many of these medicines can be used for a brief period or taken only as needed.
- Stimulants: can be used to help improve attention and concentration. In children or adults with attention problems, these medicines could help with impulsivity, disorganization, or hyperactivity.
- Mood stabilizers: helpful to treat mood swings like extreme highs and lows or bouts of uncontrollable anger. They can also help with some anxiety, or with depression that does not seem to go away, or gets better and returns.
- Antipsychotics: medicines like these have a variety of uses such as for individuals struggling with delusional beliefs, hearing voices, or seeing things that are not really there. They can also be used to help someone organize thoughts, calm down, or regulate mood.
Overall, the decision to try medication or other therapeutic alternatives is a personal one. Always be sure to talk to your doctor before starting or stopping any medication. Take your time gathering information from trusted sources, but don’t be afraid to ask for help! Just like in therapy, sometimes another outside support could be just the thing you or your child need to make a real change.