Mental health diagnosis and treatment is often difficult because there are no or very few biological tests that doctors can conduct, instead relying on the person's own experiences, thoughts, and assessment. When doctors do run tests, it is often to rule out physical disorders such as Vitamin D deficiency, prion disease, or a thyroid disorder. There are tests that measure serotonin levels in your blood, but those levels are not necessarily correlated with the levels in your brain.
We very much wish there were reliable biological markers for mental illness, but it has been difficult to locate something that has a high chance of being a specific predictor. Eiko Fried explores this in great detail in his article titled "All mental disorders are brain disorders....not", which is a bit of a dense read, but this excerpt hits the broad notes.
"As a thought experiment, choose one of the most prevalent mental disorders, such as MDD, phobias, or generalized anxiety disorder, and take a dataset with 200 healthy and 200 people with this mental illness; the dataset should include a wide range of social, psychological, and biological variables. Now your challenge is to pick one single variable that correctly classifies at least 60% of the participants. You would not pick 5-HTTLPR (the serotonin-transporter-linked polymorphic region that has been implicated in MDD), or hippocampal volume, or inflammation markers, because associations are generally extremely weak (and also unspecific). You would choose psychological or social variables to try to maximize your chances for prediction, such as adverse life events."
And while an easy, testable diagnosis would be great, the money spent on the biological research might be better spent on more practical aspects of mental illness treatment, such as long-term housing, free or reduced-cost therapists, psychiatrists, and medication, increased mental health first aid training for first responders, or mental health education in schools. Because what good is a test that says "yup, you definitely have depression" if we don't also have the support and appropriate treatment available.
Medication for a mental illness is definitely not some sort of "quick fix." It's not like you just take some pills and things get better immediately. Mental health medication takes time to work and the first one you take may not even be the right one for you.
In order to see if a medication is working, you should give it at least 2 weeks if not a month before evaluating the medication and dosage. It could be that you just need a higher dosage. It could be that that medication doesn't work for you. But luckily, there are a lot of different options available that you and your doctor can work through.
Medication for mental illness is very much a "guess and check" sort of situation, because things work so differently in each person. While it can be very frustrating to not feel better right away, finding the right long-term medication can be life-changing.
I went through 3 other medications before landing on a combination that works for me, and it took some dosage tweaking to get it right even after that. I highly recommend being communicative with your doctor about what is working and what is not so that you can find something that helps you feel better and is appropriate for your lifestyle.
Mental health conversations have come a long way. People are more and more willing to talk about what is going on in their life and if they are struggling. People are able to get help. So, it surprises me when I still hear some people talk about a fear of taking medication.
Taking medication for your mental health is not a sign of weakness. In fact, it is a sign of strength. It is a sign that you are willing and able to acknowledge that you might need help and get the assistance you need to improve your life.
If you had a cut on your leg, it might be small enough to heal on its own with maybe just a bandage you can get at the store. But what if it wasn't healing? What if it got infected? What if it got so bad that you couldn't walk or it affected your job? Wouldn't it be appropriate to see a doctor to see if it might be infected and get some antibiotics?
If you are experiencing a mental health struggle, you might be able to deal with it on your own with a relaxing weekend in bed with some ice cream and good movies. But what if that didn't make you feel better? What if instead you felt way worse? What if it got so bad that you couldn't get out of bed or it affected your job? Wouldn't it be appropriate to talk to someone about how you are feeling and get some insight or even medication?
It's completely ridiculous to me that taking medication for an illness is seen as a no-no. I see it as just one more tool to help you feel your best, so you can live the life you want.
You may already know the main National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number (1-800-273-8255), but did you know there are few specific crisis phone numbers?
I had been writing in my journal every day for awhile, but then I got stuck on this prompt.
I really don't know what to say. Much of the time, I don't feel like I am living life to the fullest. Sometimes I feel like my depression and anxiety get in the way of that. And when I'm feeling down, it can be hard to remember the good times, because the bad times are dominating my thoughts.
I do know that I have loved traveling with Brian and I highly recommend traveling to everyone. Some of my favorite stories are from our many wonderful trips.
What I'd really like is to hear some of your experiences. What has brought you joy and excitement in your life?
I write so you can say "I need to leave work early today to go to my therapist" as easily as you say "I need to leave work early today to go to the dentist."
I write so you can ask for referrals for a therapist as easily as you ask for referrals for a roofer.
I write so you know what resources are available, helpful, and accurate so you can learn more on your own.
I write so that when you are having a rough day, you have tools to be able to take care of yourself.
I write so that when someone opens up to you about their mental illness, you have the knowledge to understand, empathize, and respond with compassion.
I write so you have the courage to write your own story.
I write so you are not afraid to ask for help.
I write so that you know you are not alone.