UPDATE: Why So Many People Are Ignorant About Psych Meds They Take

Editor’s note  This blog ,by Diane Engster, was first posted August 18, 2012, without documentation.  As editor, I take full responsibility for the oversight, which several readers called to our attention.  We are updating the blog now, with documentation.

Whenever possible, WellnessWordworks.com embeds our documentation as links in the in the text, not a list of references at the end.  This enables the reader to click on the link, and look at the reference, without leaving the original page of the blog entry.  In this video, Wellness Wordworks founder and creative director Corinna West discusses the importance of documenting all claims about health care, particularly psychiatric  medication:

Ken Braiterman, Blogs editor, Wellnesswordworks.com


by Diane Engster

I’m astonished at how ignorant about psych meds many people who take them still are..

We’ve known for years about their dangerous side effects like (obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke). Few people have heard, however of the difficulty getting off when you’ve been taking them for a while, or even about the suicidal and homicidal feelings the government warns us against on product labels.

Now, enough people have been taking psych meds long enough to do statistically significant long-term outcome studies, which show harm even to people who benefit from meds in the short term.

We’re seeing cognitive deterioration, increased chronic symptoms in conditions that, before the

"Anatomy of an Epidemic" by Robert Whitaker

“Anatomy of an Epidemic” by Robert Whitaker

medication revolution in the 50’s, used to go away in time with rest, talk therapy, and support. Robert Whitaker’s award-winning book Anatomy of an Epidemic (2010) summarizes much of this recent research.People who take anti-depressant medication, especially children, are much more likely to progress from from major depression to bipolar disorder, to rapid cycling bipolar disorder.

And these findings do not include the hard-to-measure outcomes of people feeling generally less sharp, energetic, and with it, who feel they can’t live to the fullest, and be the person they want to be.


Being Ignorant about Psych Meds is Not an Option

Staying ignorant about psych meds is a luxury people who take them can no longer afford.  Blindly following doctor’s orders, ignorant about what you’re taking, should be a thing of the distant past, but it’s not for many reasons, not all of which are the person’s fault, some of which are caused by old-fashioned care providers.

Some people I know don’t even know the names of their meds, what type of med it is, or what it is really for. Docs often misrepresent meds. A person might say they are having trouble sleeping, and the doc could prescribe Seraquel, or trazadone, or a benzodiazepine,  or benedryl and not really say what type of drug it is, or the dangers. There are side-effects which are annoying,  side-effects which are dangerous, and for some medication, death is a side effect we aren’t warned about.

We Find More Dangers All the Time

Serotonin receptors have been said to be associated with depression but there has been no conclusive research despite our societal belief in this story.

Serotonin receptors have been said to be associated with depression but there has been no conclusive research despite our societal belief in this story.

When I first started taking anti-depressants, I had dry mouth, which I continue to have. Fairly recently, I found out that dry mouth can cause dental problems.  I never knew about that, or other anti-depressant side effects,  and my doc still hasn’t told me.

Now they are saying that long-term use of anti-depressants can actually cause more relapses of serious depression in the future. And we certainly don’t know if all of the atypical anti-psychotics have the same level of risk in causing diabetes.

I see studies every month that talk about a new danger from anti-depressants. Until recently, research was not done on long-term use of the drugs, so how could we fully know what the dangers are?

Now, there are added “off-label” uses for drugs that were never formally studied or approved by the FDA.   Abilify, from the anti-psychotic category, is being prescribed for depression.  Wellbutrin is prescribed for smoking cessation.  And anti-seizure medication (such as Depakote)  is used as mood stabilizers.

Some people can’t Help Lack of Knowlege About Medications

Several consumers I have advocated for had special education issues as young people, and cannot read or understand complex information.  They have trouble deciphering the medication information sheets that come from pharmacies.

Also, in Northern Virginia,. we have an incredibly diverse population, and many people don’t have English as their first language.  They are at a great disadvantage when seeing the doc, and reading the med sheets.

Also, some I have advocated for have both severe mental illness and intellectual disabilities, diagnoses which make it difficult to understand all this without a lot of assistance, which they rarely get.

There are also many consumers who have no access to computers, or don’t know how to use them, so its not too easy to look stuff up on the Internet. And the mental health clinic does not usually share its Physicians Desk Reference (PDR, a manual of all prescription drugs, their uses, and side effects) with clients.

Helping people who can’t help being ignorant about psych meds is a great job for a peer specialist.

Mary Ellen Copeland

Mary Ellen Copeland

Sometimes, you have to be assertive with your doctor to find out about your medications, but your pharmacist will give you all the most reliable information if you ask for it, recovery pioneer Mary Ellen Copeland says.  

You can also search the name of the drug on the Internet, but read several articles.  Look for information from a reputable research institution, not a drug company or someone who is against all medication on principle.  Anybody can put anything on the Internet, true or false.

Dr. Copeland recommends that everyone know the following things about every psychiatric medicine they take before they take it:

  • The brand name and generic name of every medication
  • What it’s for
  • What side effects to look for
  • How long it usually takes to become effective
  • How long to wait before reporting side effects
  • How long before deciding it’s not working, and to look for an alternative

Can you make people less ignorant about psych meds they take?  How?


9 comments to UPDATE: Why So Many People Are Ignorant About Psych Meds They Take

  • Re: “Blindly following doctor’s orders, ignorant about what you’re taking, should be a thing of the distant past…”

    Comment: Amen

    Re: not seeking advice from “someone who is against all medication on principle”

    Comment: There are worse people to seek advice from, including the VAST NAJORITY of mrntal health professionals. I understand that the drugs may have some very limited value, for a very short period of time, when all other options have been exhausted… but only for adults, with informed consent, not as maintenance, not for the long-term, and never by force!… And they are not medicines, they are DRUGS… They do not cure chemical imbalance, their long-term use CAUSES chemical imbalance, along with disability.

    Good post.
    Thank you,

    Duane Sherry, M.S.

  • Can we all stop calling them “meds” or “medication” or “medicines”?

    Please, can we at least begin to call them what they are?

    They are DRUGS.

    They are not :medicinal… They do NOT heal.

    I like to think of them (in their long-term use) as mind-altering, brain-damaging, body-injurying, spirit-numbing drugs.


    • Stephen

      I wanted to make sure you received this comment. You can read my post and I’ll respond here. All medications are drugs. They are not naturally grown, but manufactured. So, stop taking your asprin for your heart and stay away from doctors. Instead, go to a health store and buy your herbs. BTW, some herbs can kill you as well. I guess people should sit and suffer from all medical ailments because they should not take their medications or as you call them: drugs.

  • Not because I’m “against them by principle”, but because THAT’S WHAT THEY ARE!


  • Stephen

    Why do we call them drugs? This site is rediculous and I bet if you had a heart condition you would take your medicine. Someone please tell me they can relate to me and we’ll have a discussion. I have severe PTSD, anxiety, and panic from two tours in Iraq. I have been through 3 therapists and currently been with one since 2009. I started therapy when I was medically retired (2006) and have found it very useful and helpful. I have learned breathing techniques, meditation and every other form of therapy there is to deal with these issues. I have been cleared from all medical problems and yet I still suffer every day. I have been trying to stay med free and believe I am killing myself from the adrenaline that runs through my body daily. This is not my imagination it is life for me. I was “normal” prior to going to Iraq the second time, but things happened beyond my wildest imagination. People sit here and judge others when you have no clue how they have come to taking these medications in the first place.

    I go to the doctor and my BP and HR go up, yet I am normal at home. I have had my machine compared in medical offices so I know that I have normal levels at home. I can’t even sit in the stands without leaving my 16 year olds football games. The crowds overwhelm me. Please, don’t give me any lines if you haven’t been to war. Realize some people need medications and some do not. Duane, I am sorry that you feel these are drugs, but all medications are manufactured and are therefore drugs. All medications. So, I would suggest you stick to your guns and quit all forms of “medications/drugs” and deal with your cancer, heart, liver, lungs, or whatever illness you have and stay away from the ER and hospitals so you can avoid drugs. Anything which is not “naturally” grown, is a manufactured drug/medication.

    So if you are all willing to give up your medications for every illness, please comment. Otherwise, quit being judgmental as these so-called drugs have kept some of my fellow soldiers from killing themselves. Thank you for not supporting your troops and veterans who struggle and instead judge them by judging the medications which have helped them to serve you. Thanks for your time and please get your facts straight. Opinions are all that are in this article and responses. Get your medical degree, then write to us about how horrible these medicines are for us. I guess my fellow soldiers and I should self-medicate with something else since therapy and groups have helped, but still haven’t gotten me to a place where I can work again.

  • Stephen,

    I’m truly sorry for any hurt I caused, and hope you can forgive me.

    Many members of my family have served in the military, some in peacetime, others in combat zones. Thank you so much for your service…

    And I mean that, sincerely. My bone to pick is with conventional psychiatry, not with anyone who is suffering, especially a veteran.

    I put together a list of sites to help service members and veterans. Two areas you may want to look at are no-cost (for veterans) neurofeedbak and hyperbaric oxygen therapy… also, psychiatric service dog –


    I hope you will accept my apology.
    Thank you Stephen, for your service, and please know that many of us are grateful, beyond words.


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