Is medication the most effective way to treat mental health issues?
- According to Better Health Channel, the six main types of mental health drugs can be classified as antidepressants, antipsychotics, mood stabilizers, depressants, anxiolytics, and stimulants. Further, 'Some psychiatric medications work in a few hours, some take weeks or months to become effective.'
- A 2019 National Health Interview Survey conducted by the CDC found that 19.2% of adults had received mental health treatment of any kind in the previous year, with 15.8% of respondents taking prescription medication and 9.5% receiving counseling or therapy.
- Mental Health America's data on the state of mental health in America reveals that in 2022, 'Over half of adults with a mental illness do not receive treatment, totaling over 27 million adults in the US who are going untreated.'
- John Hopkins Medicine reports that, according to the National Institute of Mental Health Disorders, an estimated '26% of Americans ages 18 and older--about 1 in 4 adults--suffers from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year.'
Mental disorders are common, impacting an estimated 20% of the population, with depression, anxiety, and bipolar chief among them. Intense symptoms, like major depressive episodes, panic attacks, and mania, often have toxic effects severe enough to call for medical intervention. In these instances, pharmaceuticals have the most rapid onset relative to other therapies.
When an emotional or behavioral problem is severe enough to significantly disrupt one’s life, leaving it untreated can result in long-term and irreparable harm--an individual’s wellness, relationships, work reputation, living situation, and personal freedom can all be put at risk. Medications for mental illness are proven to reduce and alleviate symptoms, with different types of medication tailored to various conditions. For instance, certain antidepressants consistently decrease symptoms by 30-60%, with a significant portion of participants reaching complete remission.
One primary cause of mental health conditions is a chemical imbalance, most directly addressed through physiological treatment. Medication has the power to help patients reach recovery and can be the only solution when the issue is biological. Moreover, the longer unhealthy patterns persist, the more familiar those neural pathways become, making the disease’s unwanted characteristics take longer to correct. With medication, patients can interrupt unhealthy neurological patterns to motivate new behaviors, reform neurotransmitter grooves, and develop healthier habits. In this way, medication enhances the effectiveness of other forms of therapy, like counseling.
Frequently prescribed medications play a crucial role in significantly improving conditions they’re formulated to treat, especially in serious, ongoing cases and when multiple disorders are present. The efficacy of medications to relieve symptoms is repeatedly demonstrated in placebo-controlled studies and is evident whenever symptoms promptly return following discontinuation.
Prescriptions for mental health issues have surged significantly in the US--data gathered from the CDC by QuoteWizard shows that, as of 2021, one out of every five Americans takes “prescription mental health medication”--an increase of 6.5% nationally from 2020. Despite this surge, however, experts argue there is little evidence that medication works for psychiatric disorders, as Americans' mental health is actually deteriorating. The standardized mortality rate for those with serious mental disorders has also increased in the last 40 years.
Health journalist Robert Whitaker argues that studies on antidepressants and antipsychotics prove that their efficacy in reducing symptoms compared to a placebo is very marginal and cannot be considered a 'clinically meaningful' benefit. Peter Gøtzsche, director of the Nordic Cochrane Center in Denmark, also claims that trials on the efficacy of psychiatric drugs tend to be extremely biased.
Gøtzsche also highlights that some psychiatric drugs do more harm than good, especially when used long-term. He explains that studies on some medications used to treat schizophrenia and ADHD have been shown to cause brain damage, adding that deaths from suicide in clinical trials also tend to be under-reported.
The primary issue with the medical model in psychiatry is that it fails to take into account several factors that may be causing a person's mental health to deteriorate. Medical professionals usually only focus on a patient's symptoms but do not consider their need for social support or therapy--which is more important for recovery. For this reason, patients who go through psychotherapy and can obtain social support often see the most significant improvement in mental health.