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In a study published today in The Archives of General Psychiatry, researchers from Johns Hopkins University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute report the number of adults being prescribed psychiatric drug combinations is increasing. Between 1996 and 1997, 42% of psychiatric patients were prescribed two or more drugs. In just ten years this number has jumped to 60%. What’s more, many of the drug combinations being prescribed have never been tested before, and many are showing adverse effects like weight gain and increased cholesterol.

An interesting finding in this study is that levels of mental illness have not been increasing, but rather the increase in multiple drug treatment might be due to a psychiatric focus on symptom reduction. If you are prescribed Prozak for your depression, for example,  you might develop anxiety. Your doctor might then prescribe Xanax. And so on.  I’ve worked with several clients who are routinely on two or more medications. One 10-year-old boy I worked with was on five psychotropic medications at once.

What does this mean for you? Medication has become a standard and effective way to treat the symptoms of many mental illnesses. I have seen medication literally save lives. However, the science is just not there yet to support what is happening in the field. This means that you need to take it upon yourself to know what you are putting into your body, what it does, what the side-effects are, and how it interacts with other medications. Make your doctor do her homework. Have her prove to you that what she is recommending is backed by the literature and has been shown to work. There are many motivations out there for doctors to prescribe medication, unfortunately your well-being is not always at the top of the list.

One final and alarming finding in this study is that patients who are covered by Medicaid were more often prescribed multiple drugs than individuals with private insurance. This builds on an earlier study by a federally funded team from Rutgers and Columbia that found that children on Medicaid are prescribed medication for mental illness at a rate four times higher than children on private insurance. There is currently a debate as to why this discrepancy exists with reasons ranging from those on Medicaid have a harder time sticking with the regimen of therapy to Medicaid doesn’t reimburse well for therapy and thus at times the only treatment option is medication.

Chris Tickner is a Pasadena psychotherapist, child therapist, and clinical supervisor practicing holistic psychotherapy, where he combines mindfulness psychotherapy,  somatic therapy, neuroscience, and good old fasion humor and compassion to form a a powerful treatment that is transformative and holistic.  There are thousands of California psychotherapists, and finding a counselor or finding a therapist can be daunting. On his website, Chris provides a primer to help you find the therapist that is perfect for you! Chris is also a Pasadena therapist specializing in anxiety psychotherapy and depression psychotherapy.

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