That’s a tough question, and as I answer this, please remember that the ultimate choice is yours and varies for each individual and situation. These are some general guidelines I’m drawing from using my own experience to give you a jumping board to find your own answers!
For myself, I hate being on any medication of any sort for any length of time. From what I’ve heard, a lot of other people feel the same way. I’m very independent, and depending on a drug to function isn’t an idea I like. In my own mind, this was the last resort when it came to depression. If therapy itself didn’t work, I would agree to take medication, but no sooner.
Everyone’s view on medication is different, and I will note, as a point of interest, that while I would never hesitate to take medication post-surgery (unless, perhaps, it runs the risk of creating severe addiction), I did hesitate when it came to depression. So while I was willing to take medication for physical pains, I didn’t like the idea of doing so for mental pains. Somewhere in my own mind, I viewed these things differently, and part of changing how we perceive medication for mental and emotional ailments is challenging ourselves to answer why we perceive them differently. For myself, I definitely struggled with the blow to my pride. My mind was something I highly revered, and I didn’t want anything else tampering with it. To put it into context, I rarely drink alcohol (and then only a glass or less), and I never drink caffeine for similar reasons.
However (and this is big), when I was at my lowest point with depression and therapy alone wasn’t cutting it, I found a combination of therapy and medication extremely helpful. The medication curbed the depth of the depressive feelings so I could focus on learning the techniques and skills from therapy.
This is also important: once I was able to apply those skills from therapy, I no longer needed medication and have been off of it for years (I was only on it for about a year).
So if you’re uncomfortable with getting medication, remember you don’t have to stay on it. I tried three different antidepressants before we hit upon the right one, and despite my fears, getting off of them wasn’t very difficult and withdrawal symptoms were low to none. This may vary, but I found the process easy, and I also found taking the medication in no way changed my personality or drastically altered my moods. It mitigated the depth my depressive feelings would sink to, but just enough to where I could concentrate on what I was learning in therapy.
Now, medicine may be higher on your list than it was for me. Maybe therapy, for you, comes after medication. Same as for deciding whether or not you should go to therapy, when you are in a place where you don’t feel safe handling the depression on your own (fear of losing control, self-sabotage, self-harm, or actually doing any of these), you should go to your next step. For me, that was therapy. After trying that for a while, with some results but not as much as I needed to feel safe and capable, I tried medication.
Just as with anything else in life, if one method doesn’t bring you the results you want, go at it from another angle. Discuss your fears with your psychiatrist (fancy name for person-who-prescribes-mental-wellness-medication), and they will likely work with you to start you off where you feel comfortable and check in regularly to ensure the medication is working as desired and that you feel good with the process.
(As a sidenote, I’d always pictured a psychiatrist as a person who makes you lie on a couch and shows you pictures of ink blotches. No. My visits with my psychiatrist were very brief, genuine, and more akin to seeing a doctor and discussing what medication is best for knee pain than anything else. Nothing weird or uncomfortable about it at all.)
Besides deciding on your own when you should start taking medication, you can ask your therapist or doctor to talk the idea over with you. Although you can also ask your friends or family members, remember they are not trained professionals and may not be able to judge when medicine would be most beneficial.
Another way I knew medication was best was when the risks of what would happen to me if I didn’t take medication outweighed the risks of taking the medication. I was at such a low point in depression, taking medication and dealing with the fear of dependence or the blow to my pride was a much smaller price to pay than my fear of what would happen if I didn’t. If you’re unsure where you stand, try writing down a list of risks and benefits for taking and not taking medication. If the risk of not taking medication is worse than the risk of taking it (self-harm, self-sabotage, suicidal ideation, job loss, etc.), this is something you’ll want to discuss with your therapist or, better yet, a psychiatrist (or even your regular doctor).
And remember! You still get to call the shots. You can always decline a suggestion or medication, you can always discuss any side effects you don’t like, and you don’t need to stay on medication any longer than you want to (unless the depression is biological and cannot be addressed via therapy alone, and even then, the choice is yours). You choose to take medication, you choose what your boundaries with that are, and you choose when to discuss stopping. Seeing it as your choice can be more empowering than seeing it as something forced upon you. You can always choose not to take it.
But, sometimes, choosing to try it is a great solution. Hey, if medication works wonders with period cramps, prevents pregnancies, heals infections, and prevents diseases, why not try it as an aide to help you overcome depression?
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