Over the past couple of decades there has been monumental progress in the areas of psychology, psychiatry, and neuroscience. However, there have also been huge setbacks. It is acknowledged by most medical professionals dealing with mental health issues that the majority of the disorder and illnesses they encounter require a combination of two types of treatment: the pharmacological and therapy-based. However, recently there has been a growing trend which refuses to acknowledge the benefits of the former, instead insisting that drugs are simply handed out without discrimination to anyone complaining of a suspected mental health issue. These same individuals stipulate that these medications are not only ineffective, but also harm the person taking them. Here, I would like to tackle many of the false assumptions these beliefs are based on, and try to reverse the effects of what has become the demonisation of psychiatry.
Firstly, I would like to talk about the development and application of psychosomatic drugs. Depending on what is being treated, there are many different drugs available to doctors to prescribe, each with different benefits and different side-effects. Each and every one of these drugs has gone through rigorous testing, in the first to be sure that it is safe for human use, secondly to prove that it does what it claimed, i.e. treats the symptoms it is supposed to, and thirdly, that it does this more effectively and with less side-effects that previous medication. This process takes years and is extremely thorough, it is certainly not the case that just any proposed drug is approved – FDA figures estimate that only 30% of proposed drugs even make it so far as Phase I testing. The same figures estimate a 8% approval rate for any new drug being tested.
Even after all this testing, once the drug has reached approval, the measures taken to protect the patients who could potentially be administered the drug don’t stop. Doctors and psychiatrists are well informed of the various risks associated with each drug, and can choose the ideal one for any particular patient. The patient is always informed of potential side-effects and it is up to them to decide whether or not they are worth the risk. The patients continue to be monitored for their tolerance of the drug, and changes can be made; either changing the dose or the drug completely, or offering a new medication to off-set certain side-effects, so that the patient receives the best possible treatment for them.
Secondly, I’d like the address the mindset that psychosomatic drugs are ineffective. Of course, you only need look at the evidence provided by the many drug trials and tests I mentioned previously to know that no drug gets onto the market without proving its worth. Drug trials aren’t the only evidence though. People who refuse to believe in the effectiveness of pharmacological treatments for mental health issues are refuting thousands of papers written over a hundred years by the most respected professionals and researchers in these fields. It is often suggested that these professionals have something to gain by distorting the facts, but this clearly isn’t the case. If a psychiatrist at the top of his field were to write a paper proclaiming the benefits of a drug that is later found to be ineffective, than that psychiatrist would effectively be at the end of his career. The same is suggested of the people running the drug trials; it’s often stipulated that they’re in the pockets of the pharmaceutical companies, not taking into account the massive cost of conducting expensive trials over many years, with a very low success rate. Often these scientists find that they have spent many years working on a potential drug to no avail.
As for the pharmaceutical companies themselves, it brings them no benefit to sell ineffective drugs. They would soon find themselves losing business if the medicine they were selling wasn’t bringing any health benefits to their customers. One argument given is that this actually benefits them, as people who don’t get better have to keep taking medicine. However, it’s unlikely that a patient would continue an ineffective treatment, and in any case, it can hardly be argued that there is a shortage of people who need psychosomatic drugs – it is far better for the company to cure people and attract others who also want the benefits of what they’re selling. This in itself is just common business sense.
Finally, I’d like to talk about how the drugs are prescribed. It is often said that doctors simply throw drugs at a patient and send them on their way. This is not the case – as I’ve said previously, doctors have to consider the individual patient, and the patient themselves has a say on the treatment they receive. Good doctors will make a real effort to educate the patient on the effects of a particular drug before prescribing it to them. It is also rare that drugs are the only solution offered – doctors are the first to suggest various types of therapy-based treatments, and often have a lot of information and leaflets on offer suggesting local services which the patient can take advantage of. It is also the doctors job to refer you to the type of therapist suited to you – for example, after discussing it with you, they may suggest a counsellor who works with cognitive-behavioural therapy. But this is after discussion with you, and what you feel would benefit you most.
It’s also rare for doctors to prescribe medications without first asking about the patient’s general state of health. They’ll ask how often you exercise, what your sleeping pattern is like, if you’re stressed, if you’re eating healthily, if you smoke or drink heavily, etc. If the doctor is of the belief that you would benefit from some lifestyle changes, these will often be suggested before any type of drug. Medication may also only be offered as a temporary solution, to help the patient to cope until other treatments such as therapy have been attempted. There are often long waiting lists for psychologists and therapists, and treatment takes some time to work – in the meantime, drugs may take the edge of a patient’s symptoms. At the end of the day, it is also true that some patients do require lifetime medication, in the same way that a person with type I diabetes will require insulin for the rest of their life. Mental health issues often have a chemical basis, and although it is not completely understood at this point, that does not mean that it should be disregarded. Some patients may find that their symptoms all but disappear on medication, and as usual, it is they who have the final say in whether or not they continue to take it. Therapy-based and lifestyle-based treatments do not work for everyone, just as pharmacological treatments do not work for everyone.
I hope by talking about these issues I have cleared a few things up on the topic of pharmacological treatment of mental health issues. In the end, it is usually a combination of drugs and therapy that will cure a patient, and disregarding either one is harmful to them as it will hinder their recovery. It is time that people returned their trust to their doctors, whose very job it is to help them.