Are People with Mental Illness Overmedicated?

Therese Borchard at her great blog on mental illness, Beyond Blue, takes on the question.

Are some people overmedicated in this country? Yes. Absolutely. I devote a few chapters of my book, Beyond Blue, to describing the dangerous phase in my recovery led by a doctor whom I call “Pharma King.” I was taking something like 16 pills a day, enough to drop my head into my cereal bowl every morning for about three months. And I wasn’t at all uncomfortable with how the nurses at the outpatient psych program I attended jumped to an increase in medication every time a patient voiced a complaint or raised an issue.

I wanted to scream out, “For crying out loud, let the woman try to sort through this a tad before we up her prescription.”

I think there are many people with mild depression who would be better served by a change in diet, a strict exercise regiment, some psychotherapy, and the other tools we have to help us, than simply by swallowing a pill.

I would tend to agree in some cases, but not in many. I know a few people in my life and in my ministry who would be lost without the use of drugs to stabilize their brain chemistry.

And therein lies the problem. Many people with mild depression rely on meds to bring them back to the borderline when simple talk therapy will do.

Then there are people with serious issues who NEED meds simply to stabilize their brain chemistry and correct the imbalance that causes mania or depression–or both.

And that being said, those people also need to participate in talk therapy on a minimum monthly basis. These two therapeutic solutions work well in consort for the seriously ill. The issue is that one usually favors one over the other when both are actually necessary.

As is the case with most things, fear is at the heart of this, I think. Mildly depressed people hear horror stories of people who are seriously mentally ill and they don’t want to find themselves in that situation so they medicate unnecessarily. Seriously depressed people take their meds and it stabilizes them, but they don’t thrive on meds alone–they need the talk therapy as well. Those who are seriously ill can participate in talk therapy from now until the end of time without meds and they will never recover –but they fear taking meds for one reason or another. And there are many who lobby against the pharmaceutical industry who tell people to chuck their meds and it leads to a rapid downfall. Others can bring themselves naturally up to the borderline with simple talk therapy–but choose to do nothing.

For many of us in ministry, we see a good deal of people who come to us for pastoral care or for spiritual direction. We’ve learned the signs of mental illness and know when people need more help than we are able to provide. And yet, many people really trust us and want to use us for talk therapy when they really need to see a psychologist–perhaps one who is open to spirituality in their practice would be best. I’ve even toyed with the idea of working on a psychology degree for these reasons. I love doing direction with young people, but at times I can see the blocks that doesn’t let someone even see the possibility of God working in their lives. It becomes my job to send them elsewhere–which really is hard for them to hear sometimes.

I think this is an area where a great conversation can happen between the psychological community and the religious community. We really can help one another here and I know a good deal of psychologists who consult religious professionals for assistance including one who said “Until my client went to confession regularly, I couldn’t get them past their negative feelings. Confession was the piece that helped me to help them make a breakthrough and forgive themselves and the others in their lives and be more able to see the world as a safe place again.”

Indeed. Any other experiences with this?

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3 Comments

  1. Though I agree some doctors are too quick to medicate, and that in some cases the drugs can be a barrier to real progress, to reject them outright is dangerous and ill-informed.

    About twelve years ago I lost a friend who had been struggling with issues and decided to take himself off his medications. His mounting paranoia ultimately culminated in an altercation with his father, where he was shot in self-defense.

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  2. Thank you for posting this. I’ve been recently diagnosed as being depressed and am not haveing the best support system from my husband. He says that we’re all too over medicated, and I want to find research stating otherwise.

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