Two of the most promising behavioral health developments of the past decade is the destigmatizing of mental health conditions and the medicinal advancements in treating people living with them. But treating mental health conditions isn’t as easy as merely writing prescriptions and taking medication. It requires medication management, where the patient and doctor work together to determine whether or not a medication is the right option. If not appropriately managed, prescribed medications cannot make the positive changes as intended and, in some cases, can have detrimental effects on the patient.
To get the most out of mental health medication, patients must make an informed choice about taking them and understand the potential benefits, side effects, and costs associated with their use. This process starts with the doctor and patient discussing medicinal options and the doctor recommending an appropriate dosage. The patient then follows up with the psychiatrist to report any observed effects of the medication to determine whether it has a beneficial impact on their condition. If the medicine is not working, adjustments can be made to the patient’s dosage, or a different medication can be prescribed. The patient and doctor are in close communication until both sides see progress is being made to treat the mental health condition.
In essence, this is how medication management should work. However, certain pitfalls can derail the process. To start, many patients are hesitant when first introduced to the idea of taking medication. Some people in recovery from a substance use disorder may be reluctant to take any medications. It’s important to remember that taking medication is not substance abuse, and a medication that manages one’s mood is very different from a drug that alters it.
Medication adherence is a critical element in mental health medication management, especially when someone begins a new prescription. Many patients do not take medication as prescribed. Some simply forget to take medications, but often “forgetting” is related to an underlying concern. Your doctors know that missed doses will most likely occur. When a patients is not adhering to the medication plan, modifications to the prescription or to the treatment plan should be based on a patient’s unique reasons for not taking them.
Unwanted side effects are one reason medication adherence problems arise. If a patient reports side effects, or changes the way they take medications due to side effects, providers do their best to address the problem. Full empathic attention to the difficulty and reassurance that it will subside are sometimes enough to reduce the concern. Serious side effects or ones that interfere with functioning should be addressed by changing the timing or dose of the medication, by taking the medication with or without food or by using another medication to alleviate the problem. At times, a medication switch will be required to address nonadherence.
It’s important to understand that proper medication management takes work from both the doctor and patient to ensure a successful mental health treatment. It’s also important to remember that while medications may remove some of the unpleasantness of a patient’s mental health issue, additional work like counselling and other behavioral treatments may be necessary for a person to truly cope with a condition.
If you would like to learn more, please visit our behavioral health services page.