Power of One
Growing up in the foster care system and on the streets, one consistent thing in my life is other people’s uncertainty of whether or not I actually have a mental illness, as if they needed to double check as often as possible. There was nothing worse than hearing someone tell me I didn’t look depressed or that I seemed too relaxed to be feeling anxious.
I was seven when the signs of my depression became most obvious. I didn’t know what it was. It could turn any good day to crap, with no warning whatsoever. I couldn’t do anything about it. As I got older I realized that my depression was treated very different than any other illness I had had before. They said I was sick. I was given a pill to swallow and if the feelings came along again I was told I was overreacting and the medication would kick in soon. It never kicked in.
The medication I was given has physically and mentally scarred me. I have permanent ticks and twitches. I developed sleep insomnia, and my depression became ten times worse due to poor judgment from my psychiatrist. Though you can pump as much medication as you feel is necessary into a depressed child, in my opinion, there are usually only three outcomes:
1) All goes well but the child becomes too dependent on the medication and can’t function properly if a day is missed.
2) The medication doesn’t work and the child only gets worse as his/her problem continues.
3) It could settle somewhere in the middle. Not better, not worse, just zombie-like.
I do believe that medication works for some individuals, but it does not work for everyone. Becoming too dependent on medication is a big risk that is overlooked because the short term problem is alleviated for the time-being. Future incidents, like the inability to pay for medication as time goes on or the potential risk that missing a dosage could have extreme effects, don’t come into question.
I still see mental health problems treated as if they are an annoyance more than a concern. But because the medical professionals have overall say, they don’t always listen when we try to tell them what we need, as if a lack of a degree means that we don’t know what is going on with our own bodies or thoughts.
All of this is especially true of young people in foster care or experiencing homelessness.
I believe a lot of minds would be clear from the fog of antidepressants that may not be helping if we began to spend more time teaching youth to deal with their mental illnesses without medication. Not enough of them are told that they can actually learn to live with depression, PTSD, anxiety, etc., without taking two or three pills. We need to make sure to keep in mind there are other options such as Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) workshops, other forms of talk therapy, and numerous other coping skills to address these issues. Sometimes, medication can be harmful in the long run. Youth should be notified of all their treatment options instead of automatically being prescribed medication.