Psychologist Michelle Heaton has seen many people's lives saved with medication, especially people with bipolar and psychotic disorder. However, she does wish people would talk about over-prescription and misuse of mental health drugs. She feels some Australians are using them like lollies or Ibuprofen.
"It's just our world today. It's sped up so much we often think stress levels are normal, and it's not. People are going and getting antidepressants thinking it's normal and it's just not," she says.
While she doesn't prescribe antidepressants, she sees a problem when people go looking for a prescription from their GP before they address psychological issues.
"Sometimes people will address this and still medication is warranted," she says.
Then again she's seen people on meds, and it's not doing anything to improve their health.
"I sort of liken it to, if someone was punching you in the head, and you stand there and you take paracetamol, and it's almost like that. It's like lifestyles are kicking people around and people are wanting to take a pill when you need to address the punching in the head," she says.
She said prescribers give out antidepressants so much because of expectations and wanting to be helpful.
She's seen the rise of ADHD medication as well, although there's no test for it.
She's found two fields of thought when it comes to the rise of adult ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactive disorder). Many experts believe because adults, particularly women, were underdiagnosed, they're finally being recognised. But also, as Johan Harri writes in Stolen Focus, there are so many attention stealers in our culture that make it harder to focus. But the world is set up to distract us; how do we know which is the disease and which is the world?
"Again I would be looking at ways to manage some of those symptoms before going straight to the medication. It can have its own set of problems, one of them is if you're on stimulants, your baseline dopamine will drop over time if you're taking stimulants. That being said, some people will say 'What it's given me is my life back and I can handle the downside, the side effects,' but again, I think we can rush too quickly," she says.
IN OTHER NEWS:
She thinks prescribing medication without looking at psychological support, unless it's very severe, can be problematic, particularly when people try to medicate grief rather than processing it.
"I've seen them work really well with a person with a severe melancholic depression, but we're using them like lollies or ibuprofen," she says. "GPs are under the pump, 10 to 15 minutes to help this person. If you've got a patient who meets criteria for depression and wants the medication, what can you do?"
She also knows that when people try to come off the medication they have adverse effects and dip before they level out.
"We need to educate people. We don't want to medicate emotions away. We are emotional beings; in our culture they're looked at as problematic," she says.
Heaton will be running an education workshop on February 28 about chronic stress and mental health resets.
Michelle's mental health tips
To improve your mood you need to look after your brain. Remember; everything you do and every interaction you have changes your brain. The trick is to do more of the things that encourage healthy neuroplasticity, than those that encourage negative neuroplasticity (these literally shrink the brain). This will have a positive effect on your overall mental wellbeing.
THE FOUR PILLARS
1. Nutrition: think Mediterranean diet; foods like fruit, vegetables, fish, avocado, extra virgin olive oil, lean meats. The foods that will damage your brain: anything processed, sugar and alcohol.
2. Sleep: healthy sleep habits include having a set time to go to bed and getting up, maintaining low light after sun down, keeping devices out of the bedroom, keeping your room cool and dark.
3. Movement: exercise is one of the best things we can do for our mood. Try and move your body as much as possible throughout the day, and if possible, do at least 30 minutes (hard enough to increase your breath but you are still able to hold a conversation) each day on top of incidental exercise. Sitting for long periods of time without movement is connected to low mood.
4. Connection: healthy connection is when we feel seen and heard by others. In order to have healthy connections we need to show people (those that we trust) our true selves. This can be scary at first but the benefits for your brain and mood are well established.