Taking psychiatric medications is not the same as taking over-the-counter flu medication. When one gets a flu, one simply takes a pill and stops when the symptoms subside. With psychiatric medications, however, this is different. Having started on a course of psychiatric pharmaceuticals for mental health symptoms like depression, anxiety or psychosis, one must follow carefully the directions of the physician, and to consume the right dosage at the prescribed intervals. When the symptoms subside, or when one feels that the meds do not help, the patient should not simply stop taking the medication. He/she should first consult the psychiatrist who would advice the patient on how the dosage can be reduced.
This controlled reduction of psychiatric medication is an important measure of harm reduction. Why harm reduction? Psychiatric drugs are chemicals that alter the balance of one’s brain biochemistry. On consumption of these drugs, the body and brain cells adapt to the drugs. This adaption process does not happen spontaneously, but take weeks. Genes are switched on and off. A hormonal and a neurobiochemical balancing act takes place. When you decide to stop taking the drugs, you’d need to allow time for your balancing neurobiological system to adapt back to life without these medications.
Measures to take before thinking about coming off antidepressants:
- Find support from the people around you. Going off these meds can be an unpredictable process. One my feel moderate to severe swings of mood, disordered sleep, anxiety and even rage.
- Plan beforehand to take up some wellness and coping skills. Some of the most effective are body-based activities that require controlled breathing, like weight-training, yoga, swimming, dancing and meditation. Different people have different preferences.
- Get support from a psychotherapist at least 6 months before you decide to reduce your medication. This will help you resolve internal conflictual issues that triggered the symptoms in the first place.
In the video below, Will Hall, a former psychiatric patient turned psychotherapist and harm reduction educator explains how and why coming off psychiatric drugs need special attention.