Mental illness symptoms can be painful, disorienting, and hard to talk about. What we feel can be really challenging to put into words. But, to get better, we have to put in time and effort toward naming what we feel with the right words. Understanding an individual’s unique symptom profile and back story is essential. Without this solid understanding, it’s hard to organize the chaos.
When we know what we’re dealing with, then we can begin to put together a plan to make it better. Psychiatric medication are tools that we can use to help reduce the intensity of symptoms. Yet, medication can be easily overdone. Finding the right dose is critically important. The following are key principles that lead to success when using medication in treatment.
Less Is More
When it comes to psychiatric medications, it’s easy to overdo it. This is often because suffering is painful. It’s natural for us to want to fix things quickly. Yet, with psychiatric medications, starting low and going slow is a really important principle to follow. Some medications take time to fully take effect. Other medications work quickly, but come with unwanted side effects.
Going to strong from the beginning, or increasing too fast, may blunt the symptoms. But, it can also numb us overall. Going big early also doesn’t allow for therapy or other forms of coping to take effect, or receive the fair credit they deserve for helping us get better.
Therapy and other forms of self-care (healthy diet, improved sleep, exercise, and stress reduction) work hand in hand with medication. In turn, when therapy and adequate self-care are on board, we tend to use lower doses and less medication overall.
Step By Step
In psychiatry lingo, it’s best to try to find the “minimum effective dose.” This is the dose of medication that is strong enough to offer benefits - improved mood and energy, reduced anxiety, increased mental clarity - but not so strong that it starts to produce side effects.
The best way to find that dose is usually not to start high and go low. It’s far better to start low, and with patience, slowly increase bit by bit over time. Keeping the doses low may mean an individual has to wait a little longer to feel better, but the improvement will be more permanent and the medication will be much better tolerated.
Symptoms Versus Diagnosis
When life throws us uncertainty, we tend to respond by trying to make sense of things by categorizing. Using categories does help us feel like we have greater control. However, in trying to figure out which category a patient belong in, important details and differences about that individual’s symptoms and situation can get overlooked. This is the old circle peg being squeezed into a square hole problem.
No two people experience depression, anxiety, or other mental illnesses in the same exact way. The symptom profile can vary from person to person, even though they have the same diagnosis. These individual symptoms should be the target of medication. Various psychiatric medications will have different effects on our brain chemistry. Focusing on symptoms in considering psychiatric medication is often much more successful. It’s a solutions-oriented approach that doesn’t put people in a box in which they don’t belong.