Coming Off Psychiatric Medications
By Sharon Spieler
Some People in this Country Are Doing It
On January 25, 2015 Community Links sponsored a viewing of the documentary “Coming off Psych Drugs” produced and directed by Daniel Mackner, LCSW. In this film, 23 people came together for a training on how to get off psychiatric medication sensibly, gradually, and with hope and support. The people attending this training consisted of psychiatric survivors, family members, consumers, a social worker, and a therapist. Basically they were people who had already come off their psych meds, those in the process of coming off their psych meds and those thinking about coming off their psych meds as well as two professionals who believed it is possible to treat people with a psychiatric diagnosis with therapy rather than with medication.
The participants in the training actually felt they were coming to a “meeting of the minds” summit. They came for support, education, and comradery. They found what they were seeking.
So how does one actually come off psych meds? The first thing you have to do is find a psychiatrist or medical doctor willing to help safely wean you off the medication. The participants agreed that because of the medical establishment's ingrained belief that mental illness is caused by a chemical imbalance best treated with medication, it was practically impossible to find a clinician willing to do this. One girl had already found a clinician who helped her wean off her meds. When professional assistance fails, you can obtain a copy of the publication titled “Harm Reduction Guide to Coming off Psychiatric Drugs” by Will Hall and published by the Icarus Project (available online). One aspect of the training dealt with this publication. The key emphasis was on coming off the meds gradually.
So what happens when you come off your meds? People cope with “alternative wellness practices” such as meditation, healthy diet, getting enough sleep, pets, nature, peer support, journaling, exercise, meaningful work, aromatherapy, hot baths, walking, fishing, creative writing, cooking, going to museums, hobbies, swimming, star and moon gazing, acupuncture, etc.
The film's producer/director Daniel Mackner, LCSW, an invited guest, said his motive for making the film was to educate the public about alternative ways of treating mental illness. He revealed that many of those in the medical establishment believed he was being irresponsible and he received occasional threats.
Many of the participants expressed skepticism about getting off their psych meds and for good reason. One woman pointed out that the entire mental health system in our country is built on the premise that mental illness is a chemical imbalance where medication is the only way to correct it and powerful drug companies profit from that belief.
A male participant raised the issue that if you try to get off your meds you could lose your benefits, to which Mr. Mackner replied that the trick is not to tell anyone that you are tapering off your meds. Someone said that for consumers who were not medication-compliant, psychiatrists prescribed injections instead. Mr. Mackner suggested that they should show their psychiatrist that they are trustworthy and start taking pills again. Once they are on pills, they can taper off without mentioning it to the doctor.
I had three bouts with major depression: once in the 1970s, once in the 1980s, and once in the 1990s. I would have suffered less had the doctor kept me on antidepressants. There is a danger in coming off of medication. Illness can reoccur. I do not think I would risk being off of medication again.
One person, a forensic peer-specialist, did not believe that those in charge of the prison system would approve of him telling prisoners that they can come off their psychiatric meds. Mr. Mackner said that the Los Angeles prison system is the biggest mental hospital in the country and that many people receive psych meds for the first time in prison.
Participants wanted to know what supports were out there once you got off your meds. We were merely referred to YouTube and Facebook. Lastly, someone wanted to know of anyone who had successfully weaned off their meds publicly. Mr. Mackner said that most people do not share publicly if they are off psych meds; they simply go on with their lives.
Pullout: “...someone wanted to know of anyone who had successfully weaned off their meds publicly. Mr. Mackner said that most people do not share publicly if they are off psych meds; they simply go on with their lives.”