By: Danielle Workman
October 21st is Check Your Meds Day. This is one of those daily holidays that I actually feel is very helpful to anyone on medications at all, not just medications for mental health. Checking your medications throughout your treatment is something I learned very early on in my mental health journey.
When I began to treat my mental health and began the trial and error of trying to find the right medication combinations, I had no idea how severely medications could interact with each other. I also was seeing physicians at different facilities that did not have common charting systems, and even had me filling my medications at different facilities. At the time I simply went with it, doing what my doctors had told me to do.
Meanwhile, those medications were interacting severely in my body - creating an awful reaction of hives, panic attacks and even severe cycles from mania to crashing into depression nearly hourly. I was self harming physically during the depression, and self harming emotionally during the mania. It was hell.
I reported it to my family doctor, who suggested I take benadryl, and suggested it was a form of anxiety. It wasn’t. He also offered a sedative, which I refused. Something about his diagnosis didn’t feel right to me.
Weeks passed and the same issues were happening. Finally, when I went for a refill on my medications a pharmacist was smart enough to take the time to go over all of the common side effects and provided me with a list of medications that would not mix well with the prescription that I had filled. I sat in the pharmacy in silence, reading and rereading the list as I realized that the medications I was taking in combination were hurting me - causing my Bipolar to cycle out of control and causing me to physically harm myself in the process.
“I know you’re busy.” I said abruptly, rushing up to the pharmacy counter again. “But I think I really need your help.”
It was thanks to my pharmacist (and the pharmacy that I will only fill my medications at now), and his help that I got things together. He got my full list of medications and allergies from my family practice doctor, he helped me transfer my family care to the same medical practice as my psychiatrist and even helped me clean up my medication list - that had medications listed as currently taking, when I hadn’t taken them in years. A week later we spent thirty minutes with me, helping me figure out what medications wouldn’t work together and sent each doctor a note asking for med changes if the medication had adverse reactions or was in a drug class that shouldn’t be combined.
It was thanks to him that we learned that many antidepressants wouldn’t work in my body, and it helped eliminate many of the trial and errors. It was thanks to the time he spent with me that I learned to check and double check my meds when I fill my pillbox, making sure the doses are correct and that I’m taking the correct amounts at the correct time. He even helped me learn about why it was important for me to eat when taking some medications and why I shouldn’t eat with others. But it was something that I had to do for myself and for my own well being - and many people wouldn’t even think to do it.
If you take medications for your mental illness, here are some things I suggest to help you avoid the catastrophe that I had to go through before I figured it out.
Keep a written list of your medications, doses and times you take them on you. Keep it in your phone, or a notebook you carry, or even in your wallet. Just have it handy so that whenever you need it - it’s there.
Update your medication list at EVERY doctor's appointment. It doesn’t matter if you’re seeing a dermatologist and your meds are from a psychiatrist, do it anyways. Medication interactions appear in surprising places.
Always ask about interactions. With many computer charting systems the computer has interactions that will automatically show up when the doctor enters the medications in. Always ask - sometimes if the doctor feels that the interaction is mild and the medication benefit is larger than the risk, they may not pay as close of attention to the risks.
Try to fill all your prescriptions at the same pharmacy. Pharmacies have a similar system to check for medication interactions and can catch any issues that the doctor's office may have missed. It’s always better to have two forms of checking and double checking when it comes to medications for mental health!
Check all your medications when the pharmacy gives them to you. They do it, but it’s always best to make sure you have the correct dose, correct medications (for some people it does matter if it is generic or brand name!) and that you have the correct amount of doses!
And once you’re on a steady and stable medication regimen...
Always try to refill for 3 months at a time. Because it can be a pain to get to the pharmacy and remember to refill your medications, make it easier on yourself by requesting 90 day refills. This also reduces the number of times that you have to worry about your checks and double checks.
Set up a refill schedule if the pharmacy offers it. Many pharmacies in my area will allow you to schedule your refills in their system as long as the doctor has the amount of refills available. I have mine set up and know what day I can go to the pharmacy every three months to go get my medications.
Set up a medication check with your primary care physician or psychiatrist. I see my primary care physician yearly and my psychiatrist twice a year for my medication checks, and have requested they talk to each other in regards to my medications. My primary care physican will do labs if necessary (many medications for mental health do require basic labs if used for long periods of time), as well as check things to watch out for like extreme weight loss or weight gain.
On paper this may look like I’m suggesting you should do so many extra things, but in reality, these are little steps that make a huge difference in your mental health journey. Celebrate Check Your Meds Day and try them out yourself!