Written by our partners at Prairie Health
With the complexities of mental health, there is no “one-size fits all” approach. As a result, numerous options exist to meet each person’s individual needs such as talk therapy, meditation, nutrition, exercise, journaling, and medication to name a few. Combining at least two options often leads to the best outcomes, but the question is which are right for you? Where and how should you start your journey? Fortunately, two methods have significant evidence of making a positive impact on your mental health.
Therapy Takes Center Stage
Talk therapy (also called psychotherapy) can provide a safe space to process, discuss, and be vulnerable with a licensed professional to work through inner dialogues. In order to get the most out of therapy, you must stay motivated to participate fully and incorporate findings from your session with a therapist into everyday life. However, this may be difficult to do if your baseline anxiety or depression is too high, making it tricky for obtaining the best results out of your therapy sessions if unable to incorporate the “lessons” into daily life.
With the increase in conversations around self-care and mental health, there has been a trend to destigmatize therapy. It’s no wonder that 42% of Americans reported having symptoms of anxiety and depression in the midst of the pandemic. With the drastic shift of people needing to attend school or work from home, there have been more open conversations about mental stability. However, despite more acceptance in the general public for people attending therapy, the conversation seems to stop there.
The conversation around medications taken for depression and anxiety are scarce, in large part due to unnecessary stigma. Approved by the FDA for their safety and efficacy, antidepressants work by alleviating the severity of symptoms commonly presented in people diagnosed with anxiety and depression. They do this by adjusting the levels of chemicals your brain uses for communication, called neurotransmitters, which are known to affect mood and emotions. Some of the common symptoms that antidepressants may alleviate are low mood, irritability, and poor sleep. Though antidepressants can be prescribed by any prescribing provider like a nurse practitioner, internist, or gynecologist, psychiatrists are medical doctors that specialize in prescribing pharmacological treatments (i.e. medication) specifically for mental health conditions. Going directly to a psychiatrist can decrease stress, since they are able to answer more nuanced questions regarding mental health symptoms, evaluate someone completely for appropriate diagnoses, and discuss possible interactions with other medications you may be taking.
Therapy and Medication: The Encore
Medication plays a crucial role in treating physiological conditions, whether that means physical pain or in the case of antidepressants, a lack in activity of particular brain chemicals. Medication facilitates healing by adjusting neurotransmitter levels in the brain, which results in the brain “healing” or, practically speaking, rewiring. Talk therapy actually works in a similar way. Therapy can involve discussing emotionally charged topics that are otherwise avoided and reframing thoughts to be more constructive rather than destructive. The healing that occurs through unearthing and reframing is a non-pharmacological way of rewiring your brain.
Because these two treatments adjust the brain’s wiring in two different ways, they tend to complement each other well. Many people we work with at Prairie Health already have a great talk therapist, but are looking for additional support to help them make progress in improving their overall mental health. WIth the mental and physical relief from finding a medication that works for them, they are able to delve deeper into their therapy sessions. For those needing a combined approach, medication coupled with therapy may enable long-lasting healing to occur. The evidence supports this, with studies showing that medication and therapy together work better than either method alone for people with conditions such as depression.
Assemble Your Mental Health Team
In order to commit to your healing, which by no means is an easy task, having a mental health support system is imperative. Even better is having the mental health professionals in your support system work together in harmony to help you. That’s where having somebody coordinating your care becomes essential, which is one of the ways that I support clients with Prairie Health. While not everyone has somebody like this in your corner, insist that your therapist and psychiatrist, for example, get connected so they can coordinate care effectively.
There are a lot of benefits of incorporating medication into your healing journey, and hesitations are natural! Here are some suggestions to begin research into whether this makes sense for you or not: