Many people today suffer from depression and come to the stage where they can’t even get out of bed. It is in a sense wonderful to have something they can take that will give them some semblance of returning to their normal lifestyle but there is a price that they have to pay and not a pleasant one.
Many of the drugs that assist people to get back to their normal routine put a damper or cloud on the person’s feelings and dull them so that they don’t feel depressed anymore but the downside is they don’t feel elated either when something good happens. Also many of the medications they need to use have other side effects that make them ill and can lead to serious metabolic diseases.
The drugs used to treat bipolar, schizophrenia and other serious mental illnesses can increase weight, raise blood fats, precipitate type 2 diabetes and this can start as soon as only 6 months after starting to take them. In fact the decline in a person’s health can be so fast that some doctors are now looking at treating diet, lifestyle and counselling as well as simply prescribing the medication.
There is a new ‘treatment algorithm’ which Associate Professor Katherine Samaras, an endocrinologist and Clinical Researcher at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research at St. Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney and her colleague, psychiatrist Dr Jackie Curtis from the Bondi Early Psychosis Program at the Prince of Wales Hospital Randwick have developed.
The treatment algorithm was adopted by NSW Health in June 2011. The program run by Dr Curtis targets youth 15-25 who have just experienced some kind of psychosis and it includes metabolic screening as well as dietary and lifestyle advice.
Professor Samaras says that she often sees the effects of metabolic syndrome and poorly controlled diabetes such as kidney failure and amputation, as part of her job as an endocrinologist She continues to talk about how people with psychosis have a lowered life-expectancy and often die from cardiovascular causes with diabetes as a major contributing factor. She continues to say that much of this could be prevented by intervention early on when the weight gain from the medication occurs. She talks about the importance of healthy habits and lifestyle in terms of nutrition and having good systems in place to regularly monitor people on these drugs.
However exact figures for the decline of physical health are not available for Australia, but in America, the statistics show that ‘metabolic syndrome’ is two to three times more in young people being treated for mental illness.
So what do we do when ourselves or a loved one are suffering so badly from anxiety and depression that we can’t function? Obviously in this situation a temporary measure is to take the medication to help us get back on track. However the doctors will tell you that none of these drugs are meant to be there for the long term and as a therapist I often find myself saying to people ‘how has the drug resolved the situation which caused you to be depressed in the first place? How has it changed anything regarding the tension between you and Mr X, or how has it changed the pressure at work, or whatever was causing the problem in the first place?’ The answer of course is that it hasn’t but we need to have enough clarity to realise that our anxious and depressed members of our society also need to be taught the skills to look after themselves so that they do not become dependent on these drugs assisting them to live their lives.
Dr Samaras makes very innovative valid points about teenagers and the treatment plans they are on and the same could be applied to all adults. What are the side effects of the medication you are taking? Is it too easy to take a pill and hope that it will help you get through your days when the reality is you don’t know the affect it is having on your longevity or what it is doing to your liver, heart, blood pressure or sugar levels? Have you read thoroughly the leaflet in the box? Have you read the ‘long’ print out from your chemist to see all the side effects? Are you getting headaches, nausea, funny taste in your mouth, tremors etc with no explanations? It could be the medication you are taking. Have you put on weight? Is your skin breaking out? Are you pregnant and taking anti-depressants and if so how will that affect your baby?
All these questions need to be answered. The answer is not to stop the pills though. The answer is to discuss thoroughly your healthcare with a professional natural therapist as well as with your doctor and to have them work together to assist you to become empowered and self sufficient to beat anxiety and depression by teaching you the skills to have a better life. You were put on the pills for a reason, sometimes really valid ones and you need to be honest and open enough to understand that if you are not functioning in your life these people, despite the side effects of the drugs, are trying to help you the best way they know how. It is up to you to seek alternative more permanent ways to empower yourself if you don’t want to keep taking the medication and once you have learnt to be less anxious, less depressed and more positive about your life then, and only then, do you have the ammunition to discuss with your doctor the reality of giving the drugs the flick.
Often people see natural therapies and the world of medication as two worlds apart. We are not as there are times when this type of emergency medicine is needed and useful. We can work hand in hand and the collaboration of the two methods makes for an enlightened community and a more empowering health care system for us all.