Managing your mental health: Investing in yourself

By reaching for medication over making a therapy appointment, are we investing in the wrong things?

The debate, controversy and general uproar that followed RTE’s Medication Nation last Monday was inevitable, and the conversation is badly needed. An hour isn’t sufficient time in which to have that conversation though, an hour is merely the tip of the iceberg.

For me, the documentary highlighted something much deeper - at least in terms of psychiatric medication. The problem is less to do with our attitude towards it, but no more than any of my depressive or BPD symptoms, is indicative of something substantially bigger.

I started thinking on it this morning. The cost of my prescription has varied over the years, but for the sake of argument, let’s average it at €75 a month. Had I not accessed therapy, I would most likely stay on that medication for the rest of my life. Statistically, I have another 40 years in me, so if the government were covering that cost for me as a medical card holder, we’d be looking at a bill of at least €36,000 for me alone. Obviously, this is a horribly crude example, but bear with me.

The real cost

The therapy that has made such a difference to my life cost approximately €5000. I could not have accessed that therapy without the generosity of people who supported my crowd funding plea. It may as well have been €5 million it was so far beyond my means. But look at the difference that money has made to my life!!

I’m better than I have ever, ever been. I have more clarity, more focus, more self-awareness and more knowledge than at any point up to now. Even more than that, I have belief in myself, and in a very real future for myself.

Medication never gave me that. Therapy did.

The issue is not about whether people are pro or anti-med, or pro or anti-psychiatry. It’s about resources, support, access and education, and all of those things are currently so lacking that I’m struggling to put them in order of priority.

Knowledge is power

Our kids need to grow up with knowledge of what mental health is. It needs to be as much a part of what they learn in school as Maths, English and Irish.

How can an anxious child learn? It is our job to teach them to recognise and manage that anxiety... Imagine the possibilities that could open up for them in their lifetime. We should teach them to be emotionally aware of their peers, and their feelings - in whatever shape, size or form they come in. We should teach them to not be afraid of emotion. In doing all of that, we are essentially teaching them to be human.

Until that knowledge has become part of us, medication will always be the solution. Until access to quality, focused therapy is readily available, for everyone, medication will always be the solution.

I’m not talking about 4-6 sessions with a counsellor that will often do nothing more than put a band-aid on a bullet hole, I’m talking about the kind of in depth work that I was able to do. For some people, 4-6 sessions will be enough. But for others? For those like me? It barely even scratches the surface.

The struggle

Medication has its place, there’s no doubt in my mind about that, particularly since we are still so new to talking about our emotional selves. But imagine a future where people recognise that they’re having difficulty long, long before it hits crisis point. Where people are accessing help far sooner, and that help is readily available and affordable. Where people are learning about how our beautiful brain works, and how that can both help and hinder us in equal measure. Where people are coming face to face with themselves. I’m not naïve. I know that this future is not likely to appear in our lifetime. But if we could even just start to consider it, who knows what could happen?

To come back to my very crude sums - €36,000 minimum on medication versus €5,000 on therapy. €36,000 to allow me to function versus €5,000 to allow me to live.

I’m not an accountant (clearly) but this is a no brainer. Doesn’t it make infinitely more sense to invest in training? To qualify a sufficient number of people to bring our mental health crisis under lasting control, rather than to continue to leave people medicated, but often still struggling and barely getting by?

Maybe I am being naiive. You decide.