Over the years, I have talked with many families and individual clients about medications. It is a scary proposition for clients to consider starting a regime of medication. Every family has different reasons to both want to start or not start medication. In my practice, it is crucial to be centered around the client’s desires for medication. My role is often focused on talking through options with clients, discussing where they can get more information, and processing some of their feelings.
Many of my clients have been worried about the length of time they might need to use medications. Sometimes the medicines that people take are indefinite, and they will always need the support offered. Other times, people need more of a short-term intervention. The symptoms that they are experiencing are so severe that it hinders their ability to make any forward progress. One metaphor I have used is that of going up a mountain. They need the help of the medication to make it to a place where they can learn new coping skills and have a period of time that is successful before they are ready to maintain that progress without the support of the medications.
My own experience of quitting smoking is not a one-to-one correlation to the support that psychiatric medications can help, but it feels very related to me. During the start of the Pandemic, I got extremely sick and was struggling to breathe. Since I was a child, I’ve often had an illness that affected my lungs. This last time scared me enough that I decided that I needed to quit smoking finally. Since I was about fourteen years old, I’ve been smoking. This means it has been well over half of my life that I’ve been a smoker. I’ve tried quitting a number of times, but never successfully. I have often, sardonically said that I quit quitting… because I don’t like failing. I decided to talk to my doctor about stopping smoking and was prescribed Chantix. It helped curve my cravings for long enough that once I stopped taking the medication, I was able to stay strong and not restart smoking. It has been almost a year since I quit smoking now. I don’t think I could have done it without the support of Chantix.
A recent study by Bentley and Thissen (2021) completed a survey looking to understand feelings related to psychiatric medications. Their study, Family Conundrums With Psychiatric Medication: An Inquiry Into Experiences, Beliefs, and Desires was able to see two latent profiles of their respondents. These profiles included those where are skeptical and those that are supportive of a medical model.
The study was completed by a survey sent out to members of National Alliance on Mental Illness, there is also a NAMI Tri-Cities locally. As a case manager years ago at Tri-Cities Community Health, I went with one of my clients to their meetings. I have frequently referred clients to NAMI and feel their organization is a pretty awesome service to the community and those with mental health (and their families). Their mission is “Dedicated to improving the quality of life for people with mental illness and their families through support, education, and advocacy.”
In Bentley and Thissen’s (2021) study, most of the respondents were parents of those with mental illness. Their sons and daughters’ medications were most frequently antidepressants, anti-psychotics, anti-anxiety medications, and mood stabilizers. The responses were most frequently from parents of those with mental illness. Out of their report, I found the narrative description their participants provided the most useful as a practitioner. For example, the following is some advice that participants wished they could give to mental health providers:
- Increase family inclusion in care: believe, involve, appreciate
- Show respect through honesty and access
- Educate patients and caregivers in an unbiased and balanced manner
- Listen more fully to stories of lived experience
- Seek knowledge on new treatments
- Embrace collaboration with families and other providers
- Be upfront about costs and strive to use affordable options
- Provide a milieu of open dialogue, hope, and empathy
- Slow down and be kinder and more patient
Bentley, K. J., & Thissen, R. (2021). Family conundrums with psychiatric medication: An inquiry into experiences, beliefs, and desires. Community Mental Health Journal. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10597-021-00792-y