Fake News About Psychiatric Medication

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Psychiatric meds—think Prozac, Lithium, and Abilify— are probably the most misunderstood drugs in the history of medicine. That’s a shame considering how much they can control symptoms of mental illness. Let’s get some of the most common myths out of the way.

1. “Meds make you suicidal.”

There is no evidence that taking an antidepressant will bring on thoughts of suicide. However, studies have found that people, especially teens, who were already thinking about death might think about it more on meds, and may even try to take their own life.

2. “Meds change your personality.”

Medications won’t change who you love or what TV shows you like to binge-watch. Taken correctly, they will take away the symptoms of your illness just like any other medication would. Think about them as if they were Tylenol. Is having a headache part of your personality? No. Even if your symptoms have been a constant in your life, your anxiety, mania, or depression are not who you are.

3. “Meds are addictive.”

Most psychiatric medications do cause withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, nausea, or insomnia if you stop taking them suddenly. That isn’t the same as addiction. If you want to quit, your psychiatrist can help you come up with a plan to slowly taper off, so you don’t go into withdrawal.

4. “Meds make you uncreative.”

This is one of the hardest myths to disprove because creativity is so subjective. We do have stories from hundreds of creative types who credit their body of work to medications that quelled their anxiety and lifted the dark cloud of depression—and plenty of artists who didn’t take them and died too soon.

5. “Once you start to feel better, you can stop taking meds.”

Keep in mind that you started to feel better because of the medication. That was the whole point. It’s usually not a good idea to stop taking something that is working for you, but if you find yourself wanting to quit, talk to your doctor about it.

6. “You can’t take antidepressants when you are pregnant.”

If you are likely to have an episode of depression during pregnancy or right after your baby is born, my personal opinion is that you can and should stay on your antidepressants. There is a small risk of lower birth weight and developmental delays in your child, but untreated depression during pregnancy can be much worse for both mom and baby causing miscarriages, serious complications, and even suicide. Your obstetrician and psychiatrist (or a reproductive psychiatrist if you can find one) can help you make the right decision for you and your baby.

7. “Name-brand drugs are better than generic ones.”

Nope. Generics have the same mix of chemicals, just no bad TV commercials.

8. “You can’t ever drink while taking antidepressants.”

You can thank lawyers for perpetuating this myth via a warning on every pill bottle stating, “DO NOT DRINK ALCOHOL.” They get paid to think about the worst-case scenarios. Here’s the deal: Take it slow until you know how the meds will impact you. Then, drink in moderation. (And of course, never drink and drive.)

Read more about how to have a happy and healthy life in Everything Is Going to Be OK, on sale September 17th.