This is a guest post by Peter James.
Medication is highly useful in a large range of scenarios and for the most part it’s a no brainer deciding when someone could benefit from it. If someone is suffering from any kind of illness and the medication can help without causing too many side effects then pharmaceuticals provide a good answer. Usually these side effects are easy to spot and manageable – if someone has a rash then it’s clear to see and easy to treat.
But with mental illness it’s a different story. Here the effects are far more subtle and much more difficult to identify, and the same goes for the complications. While medication might stop the symptoms when it comes to treating a condition such as depression or schizophrenia, it may also lead to chemical imbalances in the brain, to dependency and to a range of other unwanted side effects that are difficult to identify. And the worst part? We don’t even know whether medication is actually addressing the problem or just numbing the symptoms…
The Big Question
What this all boils down to is a single big question: do our thoughts and emotions dictate the state of our brain? Or does the state of our brain dictate the condition of our thoughts and feelings?
Let’s say for instance that someone is producing a lot of cortisol and are at the same time feeling very stressed a lot of the time. The obvious conclusion that you might draw when looking at the problem from a biological standpoint, is that the increased cortisol is causing the individual to feel stressed. Simply administer a medication to try and block that cortisol and then in theory they will be much happier. There is plenty of evidence for this ‘bottom down’ approach if you look at literature regarding brain injury and other conditions.
But then there’s the other possibility: that they are only producing lots of cortisol because they are already stressed. In other words the better solution would be to treat the condition using a ‘talking cure’ such as psychotherapy or cognitive behavioural therapy, and this would then help that person to feel happier and more confident, thus ensuring that their brain started producing less of that stress hormone.
To Medicate or Not to Medicate?
If you subscribe to the latter school of thought, then you might decide to try and avoid medication. Why? Because using medication to treat the problem would only reduce the effect of the problem, meaning that when the medication stopped, the cortisol would increase.
Furthermore, the brain of course is likely to adapt to an influx of new hormones or a lack of them and respond accordingly. Use a blocker to try and prevent the uptake of cortisol and the brain could react by producing more meaning that the problem actually gets worse.
But that’s not to say that there is no place for pharmacological treatments in the world of mental illness. If someone is feeling chronically depressed, then it may be that they pose a danger to themselves or that they can’t bear living in their current condition. In such circumstances, prescribing medication might be urgently necessary – at least while therapy is underway.
Author Bio: Peter James is a research expert at Georgetown University, a medical research institute having a dedicated team of pharmaceutical experts. His hobbies include trekking and foraging.
- Mental health image courtesy of Jennifer Mathis
- big question image courtesy of Ethan Lofton
- meditate or medicate image courtesy of The Dame