Mental illness symptoms can be painful, disorienting, and hard to talk about with others. What we feel can be challenging to put into words. But, to get better, we have to put in time and effort toward naming what we are feeling 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, we can begin putting together a plan to make it better. Psychiatric medications 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 key principles lead to success when using medication in treatment.
Less Is More
When it comes to psychiatric medications, it's easy to overdo it. Overdoing it is easy to fall into 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 fundamental principle to follow. Some psychiatric medications take time to take effect fully. Other psychiatric medications work quickly but come with unwanted side effects.
Going too strong from the beginning, or increasing too fast, may blunt the symptoms. But, it can also numb us overall. Aggressively prescribing medications upfront can reduce symptoms relatively quickly. However, this approach changes things before therapy or other forms of coping can produce noticeable benefits. In this case, all the hard work of therapy and lifestyle changes might not receive the fair credit these efforts 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. Psychiatric medication works best when used as one piece in a larger overall treatment plan.
Step By Step
In psychiatry jargon, it's best to try to find the "minimum effective dose." The minimum effective dose is whatever milligrams of a particular medication that provides benefits. Often the benefits we seek are improved mood and energy, reduced anxiety, or increased mental clarity. The minimum effective dose is also the milligram amount that is strong enough to work 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 small, and with patience, slowly increase bit by bit over time. Maintaining a low dose may mean an individual has to wait a little longer to feel better. Yet, the improvement may be more permanent and lasting. In addition, we tend to experience fewer adverse effects of psychiatric medications on lower doses.
Symptoms Versus Diagnosis
When life throws us uncertainty, we tend to respond by trying to make sense of things by categorizing them. Using categories does help us feel like we have greater control. However, in trying to figure out which specific diagnosis fits the patient, critical details and differences about that individual's symptoms or situation can easily become overlooked. It's the old circle peg getting squeezed into a square hole problem.
No two people experience depression, anxiety, or other mental illnesses in the same way. Each individual's symptom profile is unique. Because we all experience our own set of life experiences and carry unique genetic predispositions, each of our pathways toward illness will be unique.
Despite sharing the same specific diagnosis, two individuals diagnosed with a particular mood or anxiety disorder will benefit from an individually tailored treatment plan. Even though they have the same diagnosis, each will benefit from a thoughtful approach to assessment and treatment. In prescribing medications, it's often more fruitful when individual symptoms are the target of medication versus the diagnosis. 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.