Managing Life Without Medication

Dealing with anxiety or depression, or other mental health problem, without drugs is possible. This post is for all those who want to learn how to do this.

Introductory post

(7 minute read)

Hi there. My name is Alistair Mork-Chadwick. I am a psychologist, and I’m passionate about helping people, who want to move away from a reliance on medication, to make the changes that are required to support the inherent self-healing abilities of their brain (and body).

In my practice I’m seeing an ever increasing number of individuals with the problems associated with clinical depression and/or anxiety-related difficulties. Interestingly, more and more of my clients are beginning to express unease and discomfort at the thought of having to start taking medication to resolve their particular set of mental health challenges. And numerous of my clients who’ve been prescribed drugs by their doctor or psychiatrist are asking me about non-drug based alternatives that they might ‘try out’.

This post is written specifically for these individuals, and for anyone else, who does not want to have to rely on pills to keep mind and body “healthy” and, I hope, my post will help you to take your first steps toward making the changes that are necessary.

In fact, I firmly believe that with the right information and the right tools you can become more effective and more resilient, and no matter what life throws at you, you can ensure optimal health, happiness and well-being for yourself and for your loved ones... without relying on drugs. I’ll use this post to share some of the most important information and some of the most effective tools with you in order to help you achieve this.
I think that it’s very important for me to state at this point that for clinical depression, and some other mental health problems, short-term medication often plays a critical role in helping to provide a person with the energy, motivation, and thinking ability to begin making some of the crucial changes that I will be sharing in this and future posts.

In general though, I view medication for mental health problems, termed psychotropic medication, as just one possible option amongst many options, including numerous non-drug based interventions in particular, that can be used to assist an individual in overcoming their particular set of mental health problems and return to a state in which the self-healing capacity of body and brain are once again fully functioning.

It is only in relatively few cases that psychotropic medication should be viewed as the only and/or the best long-term option.

So, how do I justify my comments above? Well, the scientific research clearly shows that a brain that is functioning at sub-optimal levels just cannot support a healthy, sharp and vibrant mind. In other words, excellent mental health is underpinned and supported by a brain that is functioning at an optimum level.

What research also shows is that there are numerous underlying factors that cause some level of impairment in brain functioning and, as a result, often play a critical role in the development of mental health problems, including major depressive disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder , and a range of anxiety-related disorders amongst others.

And yet the conventional drug-focused approach to dealing with mental health problems is based on an acceptance of the belief that it is both adequate and entirely appropriate to prescribe medication that will have little or no impact on the underlying factors causing the problems within the brain (and body). Often and, perhaps, even more astoundingly medication is prescribed that will simply mask the symptoms. The underlying causes are left largely unexamined and untouched.

In other words, the conventional medication-focused approach to dealing with mental health problems rarely appears to be about supporting excellent mental health or about the sustained resolution of the mental health problem/s.

Delivering mental healthcare that really works, i.e. focuses primarily on eliminating the underlying causes, seems like a reasonable goal to me, but there seem to be at least two key obstacles standing in the way. Firstly, the medical / health care system that appears to exist in many Western countries does not provide medical practitioners with the training nor adequate time to explore with the client the underlying causes of the problems experienced.

I am definitely not the first to say it, but this approach to mental health care appears primarily designed to prolong the use of drugs that, while reducing the symptoms, often ensures a continuation of the health problem/disorder such that it becomes chronic (or ongoing) in nature.

The second key obstacle standing in the way of delivering mental healthcare that actually focuses attention on and removes the underlying causes, is that even with the things we have studied and understand, the research takes an inordinate amount of time to be translated into medical school teaching and/or does not make it into practice at all.

So, I don’t think the drug-focused approach exists primarily because scientifically up-to-date information around what causes mental illness and how it should be treated is inaccessible to health professionals and the public. Instead, it seems to me, it may be largely because most human beings would rather not change their daily habitual patterns (of living, working, relating, thinking, eating, etc.) even if the habits are somewhat self-destructive. Most human beings would rather take a pill than change a habit.

This is because we are almost all ‘creatures of habit’ and enjoy the familiarity of our comfort zones, feeling most at ease living life as we did yesterday and the day before that ad infinitum. And the drug companies have capitalised on this innate human tendency to resist change.

As such, I feel it is worth stating the following clearly: we each need to gradually remove the factors that exist in our daily lives that have a damaging or negative impact on the functioning of our brain and body. We also need to engage regularly with the factors that have a positive influence on our functioning. (Both will be key topics in future blog posts.)

This means that all of us involved in mental health care, which includes general healthcare practitioners, psychiatrists and psychologists amongst others, need to place more emphasis on offering both the information and the tools that will enable an individual to make and sustain the positive changes required. A focus on longer-term goals rather than on just modifying moods and states of mind in the shorter-term is a crucial aspect of this.

So, if you would like to deal with your mental health difficulties or problems without drugs, or if you'd like to supplement your medication with other tactics, then I think your first step is to take a close and honest look at your mindset with regard to your own mental health. I believe it’s really important for every individual to acknowledge that their particular set of mental health difficulties and/or problems are worthy of their attention and almost always indicate the presence of underlying factors or “issues”, either physical and/or emotional.

We also have to acknowledge that mental health difficulties and problems, including depression and anxiety-related disorders, do not go away without some changes being made.

So, ask your significant other/s whether they will support you on this journey and, perhaps, join you in making some of the positive changes that you will be engaging with. You will feel accountable to each other, making sure that each of you is patient with yourselves and ensuring that you maintain an attitude of generosity and kindness to self.

Talk with your doctor or healthcare practitioner about the non-drug based methods and strategies that might be useful for you to experiment with… and definitely take some time to read my next post, where I dive deeper into this topic and give attention to some of the specific factors that commonly underlie mental health problems.