I’m not ashamed medication got me through the pandemic – but we need talking therapies too | Mental health

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How did you get through lockdown? Was it baking or running or meditating? Maybe you took up art, or the guitar, or joinery – or just screaming into a pillow. For me, it was psychiatric medication. At present, I am on more meds than I have ever taken before – which says something as I spent a full year in a psychiatric hospital.

Before the pandemic, I was on antidepressants, working on getting slowly better from an eating disorder, managing depression and anxiety and the voices that yell or chatter – depending on the day – telling me I’m a failure, that I should stop breathing, that my friends and family hate me. Taking my meds significantly reduces the stretches of time I spend stagnant, gripped by blackness and staring at the cobwebs on my bedroom ceiling. They give me the fight I need to do weekly talking therapy, which in turn gives me the fight to get on with the job of living.

However, Covid unsteadied me, as it did for everyone. The bad voices became clearer and louder as the world became more viscous, confusing and frightening. I barely slept, and, when I did, my dreams started to seep into my reality. My mind was fraying.

I was referred to a psychiatrist, who suggested an additional medication. “But I want to reduce my meds, not take more,” I said. “Why?” was his exasperated reply. And the answer was simple – no matter how irrational I knew this was, I somehow felt that I should.

People too often still look at their shoes when you mention antidepressants or other psychiatric medication. Headlines speak of patients being “trapped for life” on them, or their links to serial killings, and their drain on NHS resources. Antidepressant prescriptions on the NHS in England have doubled in the space of 10 years; in the three months to September 2020, more than 6 million patients were issued scripts for the drugs, the highest figure on record. This is encouraging. That more people feel able to speak to their GPs about mental health problems and low mood, particularly in a time of global crisis, can only be a good thing.

However, that period also marked a dramatic 28% fall in patients being referred to NHS talking therapies – their Improving Access to Psychological Therapies programme. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidelines are clear that any initial prescription of antidepressants should be given alongside psychological treatment such as therapy, and yet waiting times of upwards of 12 months are increasingly common.

I have been on and off antidepressants since I was a teenager and was never offered therapy, despite continually asking for it, until I was admitted into hospital in 2018 at the age of 32. About six months before my admission, I was misdiagnosed by a psychiatrist and prescribed the maximum dose of a mood-stabilising medication with some uncomfortable side-effects that took me a full year to come off; again, I was offered no talking therapy.

This is how stigma is allowed to flourish about medication: when patients are not listened to, are fobbed off or left to flounder with just a prescription and no follow-up. A lack of psychological support undermines the good work that medication can do. And, in the very worst of cases, it costs lives.

My psychiatrist suggested a few different types of medication that would work with my antidepressants to help with the insomnia and heightened anxiety and “leaking” between reality and fantasy – something extra to patch the frayed edges.

The difference became obvious in just a few weeks. I sleep at night, I feel the warmth of the sun on my face, I know when I am awake. I am out of bed and dressed and back on the ground.

From this place, I am able to do the day-to-day things that keep me sane and stable. I have been quilting, running, speaking to friends and family on video calls, going out in the garden and working and thinking and reading. I feel no shame in getting some extra help to cope with an unprecedented period of grief and strain – and nor should anybody else.

Jenny Stevens is a commissioning editor on Guardian Features

In the UK and Ireland, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org or jo@samaritans.ie. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.

Hafta Ichi
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: I’m not ashamed medication got me through the pandemic – but we need talking therapies too | Mental health

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