Trauma recovery and medication

Magic pills

Being a survivor of sexual trauma and a psychology student, I read a lot of self help and psychology books.

Being a banker, I also read business newspapers. I stumbled upon the business story of the US mental health startup called Cerebral. I could not believe what I was reading.

To make it simple, Cerebral business model is to sell a monthly subscription, which allows members to access prescriptions for antidepressants after a brief online interview with a nurse. After an initial very successful start, financially speaking, they starting to earn less money. The answer : “Cerebral showed that it was half as costly to advertise for ADHD patients than for those with depression and anxiety because each ad dollar yielded more customers.” Off they went, did massive advertising, hired loads of nurses, and prescribed loads of drugs. They landed more than 400 Million $ in financing. And then, guess what: things went haywire. Who could have guessed ?

The banker in me shakes her head: it’s a perfect illustration of how massive quantitative easing (understand money printing) allowed people with half an idea and an absurd level of self confidence to gather money to do grotesque things.

The trauma survivor in me, on the other hand, is plain horrified. How on earth could these guys set up and run this business, basically preying on vulnerable people ? Does someone, somewhere, really believe that the answer to our mental health problems can be a pill, delivered by an iphone app, after a few words with a nurse ?

My non relationship with pills

I have never taken one single pill for mental health. I have been through depressive episodes, acute distress, sleeping problems, never ending obsessions, violent emotional flashbacks, certainty that I was losing my mind, and a few scary suicidal thoughts, but I always refused to take even one sleeping pill. At some stage, it seemed like everyone around me was taking something, and I was still dead set on never, ever doing it.

I can trace back the timing of this decision : adolescence. I have a vivid memory of watching a documentary on TV with my parents. It was about a lovely, beautiful and intelligent writer who was so « in love » with a man who did not care, that every time he went away, she took pills to pass out until he would came back.

I was already looking for ways to understand and find a way out of my internal mess. I could identify with this woman: I had noticed already that I had a thing for guys that did not care. I paid attention.

Years later, this woman had lost her beauty, her brain, and her life. Watching what she had become was painful, and scary. I did not take a decision consciously there and then, but something in me did, and did not change her mind during the following decades. I’m still in that space.

My non advice on taking pills

As you can see, I have no experience with mental health pills.

I heard, and read, a lot of things. I don’t think that the documentary I saw should influence anyone today: it was in the 90’s, and medication has improved significantly since then.

But I know that a lot of people rely on selling them to make money, or earn a living.

I heard that when trials are organised and interpreted by these people, they yield positive results. The same trials interpreted by really independent people, well, results are seen as meaningless. I read that sport is as effective as antidepressant in some cases, with more pleasant side effects.

I heard friends going to their doctor with a depression, and being prescribed a pill as a kind of « shut up and go away » response. I read psychiatry books talking about medication only. The only tool in the toolbox.

I also have close friends that explained how they needed immediate relief at times, and that only medication could give it to them. For some of us, our internal emotional state is an emergency, a question of life and death. I knew a friend who committed suicide when his incestuous past resurfaced. Danger is real, we should all take it seriously.

So, if the question is « should we take pills or not ? » I have no answer. I did what I think was right for me, but I cannot know for you. I’m not even sure I did the right thing: maybe I made my life more miserable than needed.

My two pieces of advice if you do need to take pills

If your emotional state is too much to bear, that’s fine, go for medication. Here is my take on how to do this though:

  • It’s good to see a doctor, preferably a psychiatrist.

Some meds are better than others for specific conditions. Some meds be taken if you drink alcohol, or take other meds unrelated to mental health. Some may induce suicidal thoughts in certain circumstances (yes!). Some have very unsavory side effects. You need professional, experienced, skilled advice on this. Your mind and your body deserve to be informed by someone else than a company trying to make as much money as possible.

  • Like a painkiller, meds are here for relief; continue to seek help for a cure

Meds will not solve the underlying problem. Read, talk, connect, seek help from fellow survivors and therapists. Solving the underlying problem is doable, and is unrelated to medication. It is another, parallel avenue.

Pills are only making your emotional state temporarily more bearable, and it has value. But no pill can heal you. Only you can…but not alone.

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