Psychiatric nurse practitioners provide medication management. What could this mean for you? Many people are intimidated or frightened by the idea of taking psychiatric medication. People who have never taken a psychiatric medication or who have experienced negative side effects from doing this in the past may especially worry. Some people avoid psychiatric medication because of the social stigma that is associated with psychiatric treatment. This is why we want you to understand the importance of your mental health and the implications of taking psychiatric medication. When it comes to medication, it is important to us that you have the tools you need to make an informed decision. We will always listen to your concerns and welcome your questions.

How important is my mental health?

In recent years, we have learned so much about the mind-body relationship. We understand that mental stress can impact your physical health, just as many physical conditions can impact your mental health. For this reason, it is important to consider your mental health in the same way you would consider your physical health.

Physical health issues, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, kidney failure and heart failure can lead to death if they aren’t treated. In addition, an individual with an untreated disease will often struggle with poor quality of life, as many of these diseases cause very uncomfortable symptoms.

In the same way, untreated mental health issues such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and PTSD can lead to death. Suicide is the 10th leading overall cause of death in the United States. Among children ages 10-14, it is the third leading cause of death. Among young people ages 15-34; it is the second leading cause of death. In addition, 20 veterans die by suicide every day. Although there are certainly exceptions, suicide often happens when people struggling with severe forms of mental illness do not receive the care they need, or if care isn’t initiated soon enough. Individuals with untreated mental illness who will not die by suicide still have to struggle with their unpleasant symptoms. These could include extreme sadness, anxiety, unrelenting obsessive thoughts, hearing voices that aren’t there, having episodes where you can’t control yourself from doing things that will ruin your life, painful flashbacks, and horrifying hallucinations. If untreated, these symptoms would certainly have a negative affect on quality of life. Thus, treating mental health issues is just as important as treating physical health issues.

How can a mental health nurse practitioner help? Well, when you aren’t feeling physically well, you go to doctor so that they can assess you. They listen to your heart, listen to your lungs, press on your stomach, and look in your ears, mouth and eyes. This is how they gather information about what is bothering you. Once they know what’s wrong, they can recommend a treatment (typically a medication) to get you feeling better. For example, someone with ear infection may need antibiotics. Someone with asthma may need an inhaler, and someone with diabetes may need insulin. All of these medications help your body fight the disease or relieve your body from unpleasant symptoms.

Coming in to have your mental health assessed is very similar. Your nurse practitioner (NP) will assess different aspects of your mental health through discussion and will use this knowledge to formulate a diagnosis and develop a treatment plan. Often times, mental health issues require medication just as physical health issues do. Psychiatric medication can relieve unpleasant symptoms and level out chemical imbalances in your brain.

Is medication the right option for me?

Deciding to take a medication is a big choice. If you decide to go for it, your NP will carefully choose a medication based on your primary symptoms (i.e. depression, anxiety, psychosis). Because there are several different medication options for most psychiatric symptoms, your NP will also pay close attention to the quality of your symptoms so that she can chose the best fit for you. For example, someone who is depressed with extreme anxiety and can’t sleep at night may need a different antidepressant than someone who is depressed with low energy, low motivation, and can’t get out of bed. Medication side effects are also carefully considered for each patient. Your NP will consider your overall health status and note any issues. If any issues are present, she will take care not to choose a medication that could exacerbate whatever is going on. For instance, if you are experiencing depression with a loss of appetite and are very underweight, your NP probably won’t prescribe an antidepressant that causes appetite suppression. If you are overweight and/or diabetic, your NP will be less likely to choose a medication that can weight gain and/or metabolic issues.

If your NP chooses a medication to treat your symptoms, she will describe why she chose the medication and what it could do to help you. She will also describe the side effects in detail so that you can have a clear understanding of the medication risks. Then you will have the knowledge you need to decide whether or not to give it a try. If you do decide to take the medication, your nurse practitioner will monitor you closely for a while. She may see you back in as soon as a week to make sure you are doing okay, although often times it isn’t necessary to return that soon. Upon your return visits, she will monitor you for side effects of the medication and assess you for a therapeutic response. Many side effects decrease with time and many medications can take up to 4-6 weeks to kick in. As you’ve probably heard, some medications have side effects that are worse than others. If your condition requires a more serious psychiatric medication, your NP will order labs at the beginning of treatment so that she can make sure the medication won’t have a major impact on your physical health. As time goes on, she may order labs again to check for any changes since the first time you had labs drawn. This is only required for some psychiatric medications. If you’ve been on a medication for a while and aren’t having any relief, are still having unpleasant side effects, or your labs indicate that it’s negatively affecting your physical health, your NP will discuss other options with you.

Your NP also understands that medication isn’t for everyone. Many people benefit significantly from personal counseling. Many people benefit from group therapy. Your NP may also suggest life skills classes or other community services. Sometimes the solution comes down to a lifestyle change, like increasing exercise or decreasing sugar intake. Often times, these alternatives are best used in combination with medication therapy. Your nurse practitioner will always consider these options as she develops a treatment plan. If medication isn’t indicated, or you decide it’s not the best option for you, she will always be willing to refer you to other resources. Regardless of the solution, the goals are always to decrease unpleasant symptoms, improve mental health, and increase quality of life. Your nurse practitioner will do whatever she can help you meet these goals.

If you have been struggling with mental health issues and are trying to decide if medication is a good option for you, please give us a call at (208) 283-7314. We will do our best to find a solution that relieves some of your suffering.