Why learn about Medication?

Many people take medication to help control or manage the symptoms of their illness.

A clear knowledge and understanding of your medication and possible side effects combined with knowledge and understanding of both oneself and one’s illness is often important in achieving a sense of personal control over the symptoms of the illness.

Knowledge enhances your ability to self manage your medication to get the maximum benefits from it while reducing the potential for side effects and the risk of relapse.

Research has shown that the average risk of relapse is 70% for people who stop their medication but the risk of relapse reduces to 30% for people who keep taking their medication as prescribed.

Acquiring knowledge also enhances your ability to negotiate effectively with the treating doctor about dose, frequency and the types of medication choices.

Keeping up with current advances in medication research and the new drugs as they become available also increases your medication and treatment options.

What sort of things should I know?

There are a number of different areas that would be useful to know including:

Dosage and frequency

Some people are concerned about the dosage of medication. For some people a low dosage of medication is a sign of being well while a high dosage indicates illness.

This can apply also to the amount of times per day the person needs to take the medication.

Each medication is different in strength and absorption rate and these are the factors which will determine the appropriate times and frequency of your prescription.

Rather than become overly concerned, a more constructive approach is to work with your doctor and mental health worker to look at your individual reaction to the medication you have been prescribed.

Managing Your Own Medication

It is important to have a clear and thorough understanding of the medication you are taking to be able to report it’s effects and side effects and to deal more effectively with any side effects and/or symptoms.

It is important to continue taking the medication as prescribed, speak to your doctor as soon as problems arise and negotiate the management together.

If you feel uncomfortable or have any difficulty doing this then there are a number of ways to address this issue including:

  • involve your case manager or another person involved in your care.
  • take a friend or family member with you for support
  • determine why you find this difficult and learn the appropriate ways of dealing with these issues. This can include practical issues, assertion, language barriers, self esteem or social skills issues and social or control issues.
  • write down the things you want to ask or talk about. Either take your notes to your appointment and either refer to them during your consultation or give a copy to your doctor.

Side Effects

The side effects of medications can fall anywhere between not a problem, slightly annoying, uncomfortable, distressing and for some people totally unacceptable.

Usually when a person ceases the medication the side effects subside within days and the person feels better.

Because any negative effects of ceasing medication takes longer to become apparent, it is common for a person to conclude that the medication has been doing them more harm than good.

Some ways of managing side effects include:

  • Changing the medication – Newer medications have less side effects and therefore a change of medication is often the answer.
  • Changing the dose – Often side effects are dose related and can be controlled or eliminated by changing the dose.
  • Determining the problem – Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish side effects from symptoms. When more than one medication is involved it can be hard to determine which medication is causing the problem. It may even be the medication that you are taking in an attempt to control the side effects that is causing the side effect.
  • Ask for a complete medication review – The problem could lie in the combination of medications you are taking. This is worth considering if more than one doctor is prescribing medication for you eg your G.P, a cardiac physician and a psychiatrist. It is very important that each doctor knows the full range of medications you are taking as the interactions between some combinations of medications can be detrimental.
  • Take medications as prescribed – Some people take medication on an ad hoc basis. This is more likely to cause side effects especially in the early stage of the illness when your body is adjusting to the medication. Contact your doctor to determine the minimal necessary dose and take regularly with frequent contact with your mental health team who will help you to monitor the situation.
  • Stop the medication – Sometimes the best way to handle distressing side effects is to cease the medication. If you decide to do this then discuss this beforehand with your doctor or treating team.
  • Distinguishing side effects from symptoms – The best way to distinguish side effects from symptoms is to learn about your illness and how it affects you as an individual. The more you learn about your illness and how the symptoms affect you the more able you will become in taking control and discovering ways to manage problems as they arise.
  • Take note of other people’s observations – People who are close to you can often recognise the symptoms of your illness and will comment on some change in your behaviour. Side effects of each medication are usually predictable and are listed as part of the information provided by the manufacturer.

Reminder of illness or sign of wellness

Some people stop taking medication when they feel well.

Others say that taking medication is a sign that they are still unwell, convince themselves that they do not need medications and cease taking them.

Research shows that relapse is higher for those people who cease their medication before they are completely symptom free or before the episode of their illness is completely controlled.

Persistent symptoms

A common reason for ceasing medication is that it does not appear to be working. Either the symptoms have not been controlled or not fully controlled.

This may simply be dose related and an adjustment to the dose of your current medication or changing to another medication may be the answer.

However, it is important to note that medication alone may not be the answer to symptom management. Other management strategies need to be used at the same time.