Let's Talk About Meds
It is not uncommon for someone struggling with food to also be struggling with a mental health issue such as depression, anxiety, OCD, ADHD, or PTSD. For some people, a combination of therapy, nutrition counseling, social support, and lifestyle changes can work wonderfully, but for others, this combination is not enough for them to heal. Fortunately, we have another tool to help: medication. Psychiatric medications are not magic, but because they influence brain chemicals that regulate emotions and thought patterns, they can help a person to do the necessary work to heal.
Even though psychiatric medications can be very helpful, many people are resistant to the idea of taking them. Thanks to an abundance of myths, significant stigma, and lack of education in this area, people may suffer needlessly for years. Other people incorrectly assume that “fixing” a problem like depression or an eating disorder is as simple as popping some pills.
Because there’s so much confusion around this topic, I asked psychiatrist Dr. Esther Rollhaus to clarify some common misconceptions about psychiatric medications. Dr. Rollhaus has a private practice via telepsychiatry serving New York and New Jersey and works in Montefiore Medical Center's Group Attachment Based Intervention (GABI) program treating parents and children who have been exposed to trauma and are affected by disparities in multiple systems of care. She has particular interests in pregnancy and postpartum mental health, bonding and attachment, and family psychotherapy. Dr. Rollahus graciously took the time to respond to the questions below.
Please be aware that in this blog post we are just introducing this important topic, and if you have specific questions and concerns you shoud absolutely consult your own provider.)
1) How do I know if I need meds?
The decision to take medications is very personal and should always involve a conversation between you and your doctor. In general people start thinking about medication when everyday functioning becomes too difficult. For example, when it is too hard to get out of bed because of depression or too difficult to concentrate on schoolwork because of racing anxious thoughts.
2) Will meds change my personality?
Medications do not change personality. The don’t “make you happier” and don’t take away life stresses or problems. They restore neurochemical balances to decrease symptoms and improve functioning. Often people find that they are better able to use their coping skills to work out or deal with problems.
3) I have an eating disorder. How would meds help?
They can be helpful if your eating disorder comes with depression, anxiety, or another treatable psychiatric conditions. Once you are feeling better, you may find that you have more energy to focus on your eating disorder symptoms.
Note: While there are a couple of medications that are approved for use in ED treatment (for example, Prozac for bulimia), treatment needs to be multifaceted and you should not rely on medication alone.
4) How will taking meds affect my weight?
It depends which medications you take. SSRIs, the most commonly used antidepressants, are not associated with large changes in weight. Some people on SSRIs notice weight changes but those are often through changes in lifestyle and not directly through the medications themselves. Other psychiatric medications can be associated with more significant weight changes and it is important to talk about that with your doctor and seek dietary help as needed.
5) Will I have to be on meds forever?
Not necessarily. Every one is different and needs different treatments and different treatment durations to stay well. Going on a medication does not mean you will need to take it forever. The important thing is to be in contact with your mental health professional and have open dialogue about your concerns and plans.
This is for informational purposes and does not constitute personal medical advice or establish a doctor-patient relationship. Please consult with a mental health provider for questions relating to your health.