If you’ve ever dealt with depression or anxiety, you know that it can be all-consuming. I’ve suffered from depression since my teenage years, so I know firsthand how awful it is. Every day is a constant battle between your higher self and your inner demons.
More than 17 million adults suffer from depression each year, with higher prevalence among women (8.7 percent, compared with 5.3 percent for men), according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Additionally, depression hits young adults the hardest of any demographic, with over 13 percent of adults age 18 to 25 suffering from a major depressive episode.
At some point, you may engage in therapy or try holistic measures to combat your depression, but that may not be enough to help in severe cases. You may wonder whether it’s the right time to get medication, and what the process and costs are. Well…
My Mental Health Story
At the age of 16, I had a mental health crisis. Ultimately, I got the help I needed through therapy and medication. For nearly seven years, I tried a variety of meds.
Medication is by no means a magic pill. You have to try and test medications, dosages, and side effects.
After a while, I finally settled for medication that didn’t have too many side effects. I felt stable. In many ways, antidepressants removed the lowest lows in my life, as well as the highest highs.
At 23, after graduating from college and dealing with other life transitions, I abruptly stopped taking my meds. (I don’t recommend this.) Stopping my medication after being on it for so long was a rough experience. After all, I was changing my brain chemistry and removing something that I had come to depend on.
Weaning myself off meds was miserable, but I felt clear and revitalized once it was out of my system. Since I stopped using antidepressants, I thought I could keep it under control through talk therapy, exercise, and healthy eating.
That is, until a couple of years ago. Over the course of a few months, I’ve been having more and more mood swings, more random tear fests that aren’t produced by anything external.
I didn’t feel okay, and that’s hard to write. But as part of Mental Health Awareness Month, it has to be okay to say that.
In an attempt to improve things, I became more active. I found myself back in therapy, and I started eating healthfully and taking supplements. I tried my best to do everything right, but it wasn’t enough — I still didn’t feel well. Normal activities — like getting out of bed and doing work that I enjoy — became burdensome.
When Do You Need Medication?
I decided to go back on medication, and it’s been a part of my daily routine for two years now.
After 10 years without it, I thought I’d be fine. That I’d be able to handle whatever came my way. I was wrong.
If you’re in the same situation, you might wonder when it’s the right time to go on medication yourself. Now, I’m not a doctor, and for any serious health matters, you should always talk to a licensed professional. But for me, it was the right time to consider medication because:
- Therapy was helping, but it wasn’t enough.
- Likewise, supplements, exercise, healthy eating, and meditation were helping, but they also weren’t enough.
- I’m having trouble working.
- My negative thoughts outweighed the positive ones.
In the end, however, the decision to go on medication is a deeply personal one.
“Research shows that talk therapy and psychotropic medication are equally effective in treating depression, so it is really a matter of preference,” says Carrie Krawiec, a licensed marriage and family therapist at the Birmingham Maple Clinic in Michigan. “Research also shows that the best outcomes in treating depression are when both are used together.”
“I advise clients to think about their symptom types,” Krawiec continues. “For example, if they are plagued by guilt, anxiety, irritability, worthlessness, insecurity, negative thoughts, talk therapy may help. If their depressed symptoms are more physiological like fatigue, sleep problems, weight loss or weight gain, the somatic pain medication route makes sense.”
If you’re considering harming yourself at all, medication may help lessen some of those thoughts.
How Much Does Medication Cost?
Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. When I was on medication 10 years ago, my insurance covered psychiatric appointments, and there was a $20 copay. My medication had similar copays, as well.
According to The National Alliance on Mental Illness, “The Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires that your health plan cover mental health equally to other treatments — this is called mental health parity.”
If you don’t have insurance, your doctor may be able to provide some samples, and you may consider opting for a generic alternative. You can also check out NeedyMeds, a national nonprofit that helps people find resources to afford medication.
Finally, don’t be afraid to ask your current therapist if he or she offers flexible costs.
“Often there are therapists and therapy clinics that offer a sliding fee scale — that is, treatment fees that are adjusted to match your income needs,” Krawiec says. “Also, often university clinics may offer lower cost or free psychiatric care based on need in exchange for being part of an education program.”
Taking Care of Your Mental Health: Do What’s Right for You
Whether it’s the right time to go on medication is up to you and your doctor. If you’ve tried other methods and they still aren’t working, you might consider trying new ones.
Professionals in the mental health community agree that while there have been strides toward greater awareness of mental illness in 2019, there needs to be a more active approach in tackling disorders like depression and anxiety.
“I think that societally right now, we are still reactive rather than proactive in addressing mental health concerns,” Krawiec says. “I think systemic practices that support health and wellness would be more meaningful and lasting in mental illness prevention.”
The good news is that medication doesn’t have to be a life sentence. But if it is something you need forever, that’s okay, too. There’s help out there.
You don’t have to feel ashamed or alone if you aren’t okay. It doesn’t mean that you’ve failed. Nor does it mean that you’re a bad person.
If you had a broken arm, you’d get it looked at, right? Why should you treat your mental health any differently? If your mental health is getting in the way of daily activities, you should consider getting help, regardless of the cost.
Additional reporting by Connor Beckett McInerney.