In my time as a therapist, I’ve worked with many people who struggle with symptoms of anxiety and depression, as they are the common cold and the flu of the mental health world. Generalized anxiety disorder and major depressive disorder have long been two of the most common mental health disorders, while several other anxiety and depressive disorders are also widely prevalent.
Given how many people struggle with these conditions, the question of whether to take medication or go to therapy has been a subject of frequent debate both inside and outside the world of mental health professionals.
Many people are hesitant to take medication, and their concerns are justified. Mental health medication often needs six or more weeks to take effect, and it’s not a miracle cure for anything. Medications often bring unwanted side effects, such as significant weight gains or losses, changes in sleep or appetite, sexual dysfunction, increased suicidal thoughts, and many others. Not everyone experiences these side effects, but when we use medication to alter the chemical makeup of our brains, it’s no surprise that several other areas of the brain are affected besides the ones we want to help.
I am not a medical doctor, but every therapist I know has been educated in how anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications work. Furthermore, we all have much experience with clients who have used these medications, many to great success, and a few with more complicating challenges.
Unfortunately, many people simplify this question into a “Medication vs. Therapy” debate, when the truth is that medication and therapy can work side-by-side together very well.
As this question is debated, I have time and again seen a common consensus emerge from research studies: medication can be a helpful tool for stabilizing a person’s mood, and therapy is an excellent way to make long-term, sustainable change.
Beyond this consensus opinion, many other questions exist, such as what medications are the best, which types of therapy are the best, and how long should someone take medication. We mental health professionals change our minds on these questions every ten to fifteen years as new research emerges, so I would be wary of taking anyone’s specific opinion to be absolutely true. However, based on the most evidence-based theories and research available, I believe there are three basic takeaways that can be of help:
- Takeaway #1: If you struggle with a low to medium level of anxiety or depression, it would be an unnecessary risk to start taking medication. This medication can only help a moderate amount since you aren’t overwhelmed by your anxiety or depression, and it puts you at risk of suffering side effects of these medications.
- Takeaway #2: If you struggle with a high level of anxiety or depression, it could be very helpful to address your mental health challenges with medication and therapy. The medication can help you stabilize your moods to maintain some continuity in your job, your relationships, school, and the things you do for fun. And, you can address the feelings of anxiety and depression you’ve struggled with for so long by working with a therapist. Hopefully, you will see steady progress coming from both these areas, and you won’t always need medication or therapy.
- Takeaway #3: Taking medication without working on yourself in therapy is not a long-term solution, as medication alone can only address the symptoms of anxiety or depression. Medication cannot fix your anxious thoughts or depressive feelings; it only suppresses them for a time. And over time, medication may produce more side effects, and you may require higher doses to continue suppressing your symptoms. However, you can be in therapy without taking medication because therapy seeks to address the root of the issue and does not pose the same medical risks as medication.
Whether you need to work on yourself in therapy alone or use therapy with medication to address your challenges, there are resources available to support you how you need it. So, don’t wait any longer to improve your quality of life. Take a positive step towards a better life today.
If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.
About the Author: Kevin Coleman is the founder and owner of Connected Therapy Practice in Columbia, South Carolina, where he serves his clients as a marriage and family therapist. He is passionate about creating innovative and educational content on his practice’s blog, so follow him on Facebook or Instagram for more content like this!
Resources to Recover and Our Sponsor Laurel House Celebrate Black History Month
February is Black History Month, a time for celebrating the outstanding achievements of Blacks and African Americans and their central role in US history. It is also a time to recognize the struggles Black people have faced throughout the history of our nation and give tribute to the strength and resilience of generations of Black Americans who have risen above adversity.
Black History Month originated from an idea by Harvard-educated historian Carter G. Woodson, who wrote the Journal of Negro History in 1916 to herald the achievements of overlooked African Americans in US history and culture. In 1926 he led an effort by the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History (ASALH) to officially declare the second week of February as “Negro History Week.” These dates align with the birthdays of two crucial figures in Black American history: Abraham Lincoln (February 12, 1809), who signed the Emancipation Proclamation officially ending slavery in the United States, and the Black American abolitionist and author Frederick Douglass (February 14, 1818), an escaped slave who is widely considered the most influential civil and human rights advocate of the 19th century. In 1976, President Gerald Ford gave official governmental recognition to the observance by declaring February “Black History Month.”
Without the contributions of Blacks and African Americans to more than 500 years of US history, culture, entertainment and the arts, science, athletics, industry and the economy, public service, and the Armed Forces, we would not be the country we are today.
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2 thoughts on “Getting Help for Mental Health: Should I Take Medication or Go to Therapy?”
For anxiety disorders, cognitive-behavioral therapy, antidepressant medications and anti-anxiety medications have all been shown to be helpful. Research generally shows that psychotherapy is more effective than medications, and that adding medications does not significantly improve outcomes from psychotherapy alone.
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