medications-257344_1920When you struggle with your mental health, do you think, ‘Take a pill?”

Drug companies want you to have this thought. Think of all the commercials aimed at improving your life through medication. But are all these pills really the answer to better mental health?

After so many years of drug development and the availability of so many new drugs, mental health problems are on the rise, not getting better.

Take panic for example. Patients often want to reach for a pill to help, but other methods, like exposure can be just as effective. Or think about chronic pain and the high use of opioids. Yet, chronic pain is in the brain and responds well to treatments that target feelings and thoughts. Sometimes, people just aren’t aware of these options. Other times, pills are easier to take than doing the hard work of changing behavior, feelings and thoughts. Change takes time.

But the brain, the body and the spirit have a powerful connection. Facing your fears, examining your negative thoughts, changing behavior and finding purpose and hope, go a long way to improving your mental health. Do we see many commercials advocating these approach?

And lifestyle matters! Sometimes we bring on poor mental health through our neglect of exercise, eating poorly and being isolated–key areas that medications can’t provide substitution. Big pharma has some answers, but getting at the root of peoples’ discontent is important. Medications treat symptoms (important) but they don’t usually cure in the field of mental health.

Yes, there is a place for pills. Some of my patients have changed lives as a result of medications that work on the biological roots of mental health problems. People with more organic conditions like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia need medication help. Others would benefit from a more holistic approach to improving their lives. Sometimes, we are reluctant to put in the time and energy necessary for lasting and long-term pay off. And often, insurance doesn’t cover these approaches.

So before you pop a pill to feel better, ask your provider if there are other approaches to your presenting mental health problem or symptoms. Be bold about asking what the research says and what is the evidence-base for the treatment you might be offered. So many times, consumers of mental health services are told to take a pill and are not aware of other approaches that have proven to be effective. While I am thankful for the medications that have helped so many, pills are not always the answer. And most often, they are part of the solution, not the entire solution.

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