If you’ve struggled with any mood disorder for any length of time, you have likely asked yourself the question of whether you should consider medication for your mood.
As an MD Psychotherapist and Women’s Mental Health Expert, I am also asked this question A LOT.
“How do I know if I need medications for my mood disorder?”
In this week’s episode of Mind Over Motherhood, I’m sharing some signs that you might benefit from medication for your mood.
The reality is there are so many different ways to treat a mood disorder like anxiety and depression.
In this post (and the accompanying podcast episode) I will share my top signs that you may need medication for your mood disorder. It is important to discuss your unique situation with your healthcare provider.
Disclaimer: Although I am a practising physician who specializes in mental health and anxiety, the advice I am providing here is not intended to be nor is it a substitute for assessment, diagnosis and treatment. The information provided here is intended to be educational and informational. It is not a substitute for assessment and treatment by a medical professional.
SIDE NOTE: If you struggle with anxiety and are looking for ways to manage it better, you also might want to pick up my new book You Are Not Your Anxiety: How To Stop Being An Anxious People-Pleasing Mess. It’s my no-bullshit approach to finally getting your anxiety under control and kicking people-pleasing to the curb. You can get your copy by clicking here.
When used correctly and prescribed by a physician who can follow up regularly, medications can be helpful tools for treating mood disorders such as anxiety and depression.
Medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) and other types of antidepressant and anti-anxiety medications are very safe and can be very effective when used properly.
Just like any other medication ever, there are pros and cons to taking any medication.
As in all other health conditions, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons of any medication. This includes comparing the risk of side effects with the potential benefits of treating a condition.
There Are Pros and Cons to Every Treatment Choice
In any situation, there are risks and benefits to any medication.
In diabetes, for example, oral medications are used to keep the blood sugar controlled. The risk of this medication is that you may have episodes of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). However, this is often outweighed by the benefits you receive from treating your blood sugar. These benefits include less heart disease, less kidney disease, lower risk of blindness, etc.
In a mood disorder like anxiety or depression, these conditions can be as debilitating, if not more debilitating, than diabetes or heart disease.
It is important to weight the pros and cons of any treatment in this illness as well. Certain mood medications may carry a risk of nausea, weight gain or sexual side effects. However, the benefits of having your mood disorder controlled may outweigh those risks. Benefits such as being less irritable or sleeping better may be very important.
That being said, I do believe that mood disorders are largely under-diagnosed and under-treated. There still remains a stigma about mental health (as ridiculous as that is). Many patients still fear judgment from others for needing medication for anxiety. Sufferers often stay quiet for far too long and are feeling terrible when they are finally treated.
It is important that we work to destigmatize mental illness. Taking a medication for your anxiety is no different than taking one for your blood pressure. Illness is illness.
Medication is Only One Part of the Treatment Puzzle
While antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs can be very effective for treating anxiety, the important thing to realize is that medications are only one part of a treatment plan.
I only prescribe medications to someone who is connected with a therapist and who is engaging in regular self-care (or making an attempt to do so). The medications do not work in a vacuum if you do not do the work everywhere else.
Signs You Might Need Medication For Your Mood Disorder
Sign #1: You have tried and are trying “all of the things” but you’re still not feeling well.
I had severe postpartum anxiety. Although I was an experienced mental health professional, I didn’t recognize the symptoms in myself. I became very sick with postpartum mood disorder before I realized what was happening .
As a very competent, self-reliant person and physician, once I realized what was happening (with help from a therapist), I was initially very confident in my ability to “fix” my own mental health disorder with all of the right non-drug therapies and habits.
Knowing that exercise is the best therapy available, I jumped into a 6-7 day exercise routine with fervour. I started a dedicated morning routine that included all of the fool-proof strategies for mental health: I journaled, practised gratitude regularly, meditated, visualized, read self-help books about mindfulness and overcoming anxiety and did yoga religiously.
Despite all of this, I still found myself experiencing a distressing level of worry about general everyday concerns. I was still irritable and fidgety, always feeling keyed up and unable to relax. I was emotional and cried often and had uncontrollable ruminating thoughts. My sleep suffered and I woke frequently at night for prolonged periods of time.
Eventually, I made the following realizations.
I realized that people who:
- Exercise 6-7 days a week shouldn’t be depressed and anxious.
- Meditate and practice mindfulness everyday faithfully shouldn’t still feel depressed and anxious.
- DO ALL THE THINGS shouldn’t still feel depressed and anxious.
Which led to the following conclusions:
- There was something about my mood disorder that could not be fixed with exercise, meditation, healthy eating, proper cognitive behavioural therapy, yoga, or journalling.
- There was, in fact, a chemical imbalance that I was obviously not correcting.
IT JUST WASN’T ENOUGH
I started on an antidepressant and it made a world of difference.
Now don’t get me wrong, all of the strategies, habits and therapies I spoke of above ARE effective for mood disorder in MANY people, and for a large proportion of people can be completely sufficient for treating their mood troubles.
I simply share this to say that if you’re like me and TRYING ALL THE THINGS that healthy, not-depressed and not-anxious people do and you’re still feeling unwell, medications might be a good choice for you.
If you struggle with perfectionism and having every situation under control, you might want to download this completely free 10-Minute Meditation for Releasing Perfectionism. Click here to download it!
Sign #2: You have learned tools to manage your mood disorder but are too anxious/overwhelmed to use them.
In today’s world of information and self-help, there are so many resources for learning very effective strategies for working with our minds and our thoughts.
Mindfulness, meditaiton and relaxation strategies are all effective means to treat mood disorders such as anxiety and depression.
I am a huge advocate for action-focused cognitive-behavioural therapy.
Seeing a therapist should almost be a prerequisite for being an adult. In fact, I’m so passionate about therapy being important that I created a virtual mental health clinic to provide therapy to as many women as possible.
Therapy is SO effective for improving your life and working through trauma, pathological thinking patterns and overcoming mental illness.
I still refer to many of the critical thought-changing statements my therapist made during those dark postpartum days and find myself correcting false thinking patterns that make me feel more distress and anxiety.
However, having all of the tools in the world will not be effective if your anxiety level is so high or your mood is so labile that you cannot focus or control yourself enough to use them.
I will speak to this more in point 3, but if you’re experiencing panic attacks or are struggling to concentrate, you may have anxiety severe enough that you cannot tap into the rational part of your brain needed to utilize the CBT techniques you know or to focus on your breathing.
If you have been to therapy but struggle to apply what you have learned because your mood disorder is so out of control, medication may help you. I often recommend a trial of an antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication to help calm the “noise” so they can actually use the tools.
Sign #3: You are experiencing panic attacks.
Not everyone who with anxiety or mood disorders experience panic attacks.
A panic attack is a sudden increase in anxiety intensity that is often accompanied by feelings of impending doom, fear for life or terror.
Panic attacks are often accompanied by powerful physical symptoms. These may include heart palpitations, sweaty palms, dizziness, tingling hands or feet and shortness of breath.
Panic attacks can happen at any time and are very distressing for anyone experiencing them. They can also be a sign of the development of a panic disorder, a type of anxiety disorder.
Panic Disorder happens when the person experiencing panic attacks begins to change their habits or avoid going out in public due to fear of having panic attacks.
Panic attacks are a definite sign that anxiety is out of control. Although there are many powerful ways to slow a panic attack, medication can help a lot.
Sign #4: You are changing your life because of your mood disorder.
There are many people who walk around perfectly functional with anxiety or depression. They are able to carry on jobs, keep relationships and go about their lives without much impact from their mood disorder.
It bothers them and they would like to get it in check, but their function is not impaired in their daily activities.
But perhaps you’re starting to cancel plans because being around people makes you sweat. Or you’ve been missing work because you can’t face the drive or the stress of the job. You’re avoiding things you used to enjoy because of a fear of something happening. You are irritable and snap at your spouse or children and feel like you “can’t handle it.”
These are all signs that your mood disorder is out of control and it might be time to consider a new strategy.
If you have started to identify areas of your life that you are adapting, avoiding or changing due to your mood disorder being so severe, it’s a good sign that medications may be effective for your treatment.
Sign #5: You are feeling physical effects of your mood disorder.
Physical symptoms such as headache and fatigue are common parts of a mood disorder. They can also be signs of a more significant illness which may benefit from medication.
It is not uncommon to feel many physical symptoms related to mood disorder, but they can be signs of more significant illness.
Chronic fatigue, neck and shoulder pain, headaches, muscle aches, appetite and weight changes often accompany more serious forms of mood disorder.
If your physical symptoms are increasing in association with your mood disorder, medication may benefit you. Medications can help lessen the physical symptoms of anxiety.
It’s not uncommon to feel fatigued or have a headache here and there. However, if you’re finding symptoms such as these are impacting your ability to function, it’s wise to seek out medical advice and evaluation.
Insomnia is another characteristic sign of untreated mood disorder. Difficulty falling or staying asleep and waking frequently in the night are common features of insomnia. Insomnia can be a sign of under-treated anxiety, and often sleep improves when anxiety is treated. Medications for anxiety can be helpful in improving sleep. If you’re struggling to get the sleep you need because of your mood symptoms, medications may be helpful.
Sign #6: You are struggling to concentrate or complete tasks.
An inability to control racing thoughts, constant rumination or overthinking and mental fogginess are common complaints from anxiety and depression sufferers.
Often they feel either very keyed up, mentally exhausted or variations of both throughout the day.
One symptom that often goes overlooked until it improves is their level of concentration.
I personally noticed a massive improvement in my ability to concentrate and complete tasks once my anxiety was under better control.
There seemed to be less chaos and noise in my brain and the relentless anxious chatter was turned down to a manageable level. I felt a renewed sense of focus and an ability to concentrate on what I was doing with enjoyment and enthusiasm.
If you have noticed your productivity isn’t what it used to be, or that you can’t seem to follow through on a task because your brain literally won’t shut up, medication for your anxiety could help.
Sign #7: You are having passive escape or even suicidal thoughts.
This is probably the most important point of this entire article.
It is unfortunately quite common to experience passive thoughts of wanting to escape your life or “not be here anymore” when you struggle with a mood disorder.
It’s all too common that our lives overwhelm our already impaired processing and can leave you feeling as if you do not have any more ability to cope.
IF YOU HAVE ANY THOUGHTS OF SELF-HARM, PLEASE SEEK MEDICAL ADVICE
If you’ve experienced thoughts like these before, it’s OK. You are not alone and there is help. You can feel better. There is hope.
The important part is to identify these feelings as symptoms of your mood disorder not being under control and seek medical advice urgently.
If you are experiencing more active thoughts of actually harming yourself or killing yourself, it is imperative that you go to your nearest emergency department or call a suicide hotline immediately.
These thoughts are often terrifying to experience. If you experience them, seek out help and please don’t keep them quiet or a secret.
Suicide is still TOO common and is too preventable.
A mood disorder that has reached the level of passive or active suicidal thoughts has the greatest potential for treatment with mood medications. If you’re experiencing any of these thoughts, please consider medications and get the help you need.
Do You Need Medication For Your Mood Disorder?
In this post, we have some of the signs that you may benefit from medication for your mood disorder.
As always, each person’s situation is unique and I do not propose solutions and signs that apply to everyone.
This post and the accompanying podcast are not intended to replace formal personalized assessment, diagnosis or management of mental health disorders by a licensed healthcare or mental health professional. Please seek resources locally for personalized advice. The information presented herein is purely intended to be informational.
Have you ever used medication for your mood disorder? What was your experience?
HAVE A LISTEN + SHARE YOUR TAKEAWAYS!
This episode digs into:
- Signs that you may benefit from medication for your mood disorder
- What to consider when you’re starting meds
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