No quick fix

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Publication Date: 
Mon, 2013-10-07

The message here isn’t that people should avoid psychiatric drugs. Some people do very well with them, and that cannot be discounted. From what I have seen, the problem is when diagnoses are made hastily, medications are prescribed freely, and there is a dangerous lack of understanding about the long-term consequences of these practices in people’s lives. Compound that with the prevailing refusal within the biomedical system to listen to people once they have a mental illness diagnosis or are taking psychiatric medication, and it’s a real mess.

Many of us might benefit from psychotherapy more than psychopharmacology. That has certainly been my experience. It works really well, but it isn’t easy. Therapy with a clinical psychologist is expensive and doesn’t claim to provide the instant relief that pills supposedly do. And it’s not covered by provincial health plans. Psychiatric care is covered, but in an overwhelmed system, most psychiatrists don’t offer therapy—they provide diagnoses and recommend medications.

The way our health care system is structured, pills are generally perceived as cheaper and simpler than psychotherapy because many prescriptions are covered by provincial health insurance plans while psychotherapy has limited or no insurance coverage. Many people who are having mental health issues can’t afford psychotherapy. But lots of people can afford medication. Other potentially helpful non-drug treatments, like acupuncture and biofeedback, are also financially out of reach for many people because they are costly and rarely covered by insurance.

This speaks to the pharmaceutical industry’s influence on what treatments public and private health insurance plans will cover and, consequently, the way that people are treated for psychiatric conditions. The system is set up to prioritize drug interventions, and that can lead to devastating consequences for people who would do better with other therapies.

In an ideal world, diagnoses would be made based on attentive, compassionate assessments, psychotherapy would be available to anyone who needed it, and psychiatric drugs would not be the default treatment when people are struggling emotionally.

What can you do if you are going through psychiatric drug withdrawal?

  1. Know that what you are experiencing is real. There is a small but vocal community of people who document psychiatric drug withdrawal symptoms. The information is out there. You are not alone. Check out the resources below.
  2. You have nothing to be ashamed of. Not mental health struggles, and not being on medication or having a hard time getting off it.
  3. If your health care providers don’t believe that you are having withdrawal symptoms, try to find a professional who is willing to work with you. It is hard to be your own advocate when you are in the throes of psychiatric drug withdrawal, but you know yourself best.
  4. Try to find a friend or family member who can help you assemble information, act as a sounding board and accompany you to appointments.
  5. Chart your symptoms.
  6. Be clear and concise with health care providers. Respectfully offer concrete suggestions and be willing to compromise within your limits.
  7. Don’t give up on yourself. Don’t ever doubt that you deserve to be as well as you can possibly be.


It’s difficult to find resources that accurately detail psychiatric drug withdrawal symptoms and tools that can help. Here are a few that I found particularly helpful:

What People Need to Know about Psychiatric Drugs

Info about Joseph Glenmullin’s book The Antidepressant Solution, and a PDF of his withdrawal symptom checklist

Going off antidepressants - Harvard Women's Health Watch

Benzodiazepines: How they work and how to withdraw (aka The Ashton manual)

Benzodiazepine Recovery Tips from the Psychiatric Medication Awareness Group

Benzodiazepine/Sleeping Pill Addiction, Tapering & Recovery

Women and psychiatric diagnoses and drugs: why gender matters:

Women, gender and mental health and addictions – a CWHN primer

Sex, Gender and Measures of Mental Health by Cara Tannenbaum, in Rising to the Challenge: Sex‑ and gender‑based analysis for health planning, policy and research in Canada, p. 96-103, Atlantic Centre of Excellence for Women’s Health, 2009 - Applies a gender lens to existing evidence on mental health, in order to inform policy on the use of new gender‑sensitive health indicators in future gender equality health planning initiatives.

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