A Common Fear about Medications for Depression and Anxiety

By Dr. Motsinger – Special to the Navarro County Gazette

Many of my patients who I see in our practice were initially very hesitant to see a psychiatrist.  A common fear that they have is that once they start taking a medication that they will have to stay on it too long or even forever.  While some people who have had multiple episodes of depression or anxiety may benefit from longer term medication, many if not most patients can discontinue their medication after an appropriate amount of time.  Many patients are relieved when I tell them that medication can be a temporary treatment, especially if they are learning long term strategies from therapy or other modalities to maintain their mental health.  Two examples from other areas of health care help further explain this concept.

When we experience increased levels of stress that go beyond our ability to cope, our brains’ normal response over time is to change in a way that manifests as depression or anxiety.  This is much like when we sprain our ankle.  When too much stress is put on the ligaments supporting our ankles, then we will damage or tear those ligaments.  This makes our ankles weaker and prone to more sprains and potentially broken bones.  If you seek medical care after spraining your ankle, you might be given crutches for a period and an ankle brace.  These tools help keep your ankle safe from further damage while your ankle heals.   The healing of your ankle is facilitated by doing physical therapy exercises to strengthen the muscles and tendons around your ankle to improve its strength.  When your ankle is healed and you have strengthened it with the exercises, then you can stop wearing the brace.  Now you might have to wear it during intense physical activity, but you will not need it on a long-term daily basis.

In our practice, it is our hope that our patients can eventually stop their medications for depression or anxiety.  We view medication much like the ankle brace in the example above.  It is often needed to help patients from becoming more depressed while they are healing.  The physical therapy can be likened to therapy or other interventions which empower you with the skills to keep your brain strong and resilient to increased stress.  If you look back on the past year, many people have suffered from depression and anxiety who otherwise might not have.  The immense stress caused by lockdowns, isolation, fear of contracting COVID, etc. have pushed some people over a line that otherwise would not have happened.   In most of these patients, if medication is required, it should be a short-term solution to heal from the overwhelming stress of the past year. 

In contrast, some patients who have recurrent depression or anxiety may require long term medication.  This is much like an overweight or obese person who is diagnosed with hypertension.  If they exercise and improve their eating habits to return to a normal weight, they will most likely decrease their blood pressure.  But for some patients, even achieving a healthy weight will not overcome their genetic risk factors and will not alleviate the need for longer term medication.  This is also true with depression and anxiety.  Ideally, depression and anxiety can be controlled long term with healthy mental health practices (coping skills, exercise, etc.).  However, sometimes even the best practices cannot overcome someone’s genetic predisposition for depression or anxiety.  These patients may be able to decrease the amount of medication needed through these good habits, but unfortunately, they will also require some long-term medication support.

In our practice, our goal is to help as many patients as possible fit into the first example.  And we are always there for those who require longer term treatment for depression and anxiety as well.

Dr. Motsinger, a Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, is a clinical psychiatrist with over twenty years experience in the medical field.  He is an Air Force Academy Graduate, and served in the Air Force for 25 years.  He has performed various clinical duties including outpatient psychiatry, inpatient psychiatry and emergency psychiatry. Dr. Motsinger holds licenses to practice in Texas and Pennsylvania.

Dr. Motsinger is new to Dr. Taft’s practice and is seeing patients in office, through virtual appointments, and is currently accepting new patients. Call the office for more information: 903-872-4442.

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