Stop Telling People with Mental Illness to Ditch their Medication for Yoga. 

“My cousin Beth cured her depression with yoga and juice cleanses!”
“Go Beth!” *feels like a failure*

If your friend opens up to you about their depression (or any mental illness) the best thing you can do is listen. You want to help and that is wonderful. A great way to start is to listen compassionately and let them know you are there for them. (If it is serious, make sure they get medical treatment.) Don’t rush to try and fix it. Don’t change the subject because it’s a tough topic. Just be there and listen.
I know I said don’t recommend yoga- I’m kind of kidding, but honesty, they’ve probably tried yoga and millions of other ways to get better. They’ve probably downward dogged until they turned blue trying to feel better. Do you think it would be odd to recommend someone with a broken leg or diabetes try yoga and quit their medical treatment? Well, although there is a misconception that mental illness is different and people can just toughen up, it’s not different.

When friends and new age spiritual gurus (without medical training) advise friends and readers to try yoga, affirmations, a new great book, acupuncture etc instead of their medication it is irresponsible and potentially very harmful. (Potentially fatal) It also makes the person feel shameful about having to rely on medication and the last thing someone with depression needs is an extra dose of shame!

Do I think medication is overprescribed? Yes. Do I think there are normal blues we all go through that shouldn’t lead to medication and can be helpful in leading to growth in a person? Yes. Do I think people with mental illness who cannot function on a day to day basis without medical treatment should try yoga instead? No. That is a big, huge absolutely not.

I was first diagnosed with depression/anxiety in my late teens. I didn’t really have any sort of feeling about medication and so when my doctor prescribed it, I took it. Second medication we tried and I was myself again. I was back to normal. It didn’t fix everything and I wasn’t super happy- I was just a regular person again. I’m a writer, composer, artist and I worried about my creativity disappearing. It didn’t and now I could actually do my work! 👏🏽😍
I had always been into all natural, hippie, alternative health and as I read books by spiritual new age people (who will remain nameless 😁) I worried that I shouldn’t be putting “chemicals” into my body. They preached that too many people were using evil pharmaceuticals to get through dark nights of the soul, which they should fight through to evolve as a spirit (and a bunch of other weird stuff) Don’t get me wrong- ask anyone who knows me- I’m incredibly spiritual- I do yoga and I wear all nature deodorant that makes me smell like sage and body order. I drink chia seed drinks, eat tempeh and do affirmations (I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and gosh darn it- people like me!)
That being said- when I went off my medication multiple times to try natural therapies and to be more spiritual, that was a BIG mistake. The people who were telling me to do yoga INSTEAD of continue with medical treatment were doing me a disservice. The new age spiritual gurus were being irresponsible. I ended up trying everything you can name off medication to be ok again- acupuncture, hypnosis, affirmations, begging God, tons of prayer, meditation, tons of exercise, tons of talk therapy and all the CBT and (other acronym-therapies you can think of) sitting with the pain like a Buddhist, saying it isn’t real like a Christian scientist, getting my brain chemicals tested by a holistic doctor and trying to take amino acids to fix them, and more weird things (if you can think them- I probably tried them) I always went back to the medication and it always worked and made me able to follow my dreams, have awesome relationships and live life to the absolute fullest. Even though I was happy to be stable again the voices of friends and spiritual gurus telling me not to take medication made me feel an inner sense of weakness and shame. I decided when people told me not to take medication and to take St. John’s Wart I would just nod and smile. I stopped opening up to people about being on medication (which is fine- we can keep private!)

I made peace with the fact that have to take medication and I am in such a better place with it. Please think before you rush to recommend smoothies to your depressed friend. Just be there.

*im not giving medical advice because I’m not a doctor.

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59 thoughts on “Stop Telling People with Mental Illness to Ditch their Medication for Yoga. 

  1. This post is so on point. Firstly, what works for one person isn’t going to magically work for everyone. Secondly, the best thing that your friend can do for you is just simply be there. I’m glad you made peace with it because meds can be awesome and beneficial, I’m glad you’ve reached a balance there.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Giiiirl! Thanks so much for the super sweet comment! 😊😊😊 I’m so glad you “got” the post!! Wasn’t sure if people would misunderstand- because I do appreciate and believe in many healing modalities- but you so are right- we all have to figure out what works for us as individuals! Muah!!!

      Liked by 4 people

      1. I cannot ditch my medication. I tried. I know I NEED to take it. I do practice yoga daily. It does help me with anxiety relief. I can do a relaxation pose for 5 minutes and it will help me. I have had people say “wow, you take that many meds?” Yes I do. I have PTSD, anxiety, and depression. It does make me feel like there is something wrong with me when people ask questions like that. Just for a moment. I feel bad about my mental illness.

        Liked by 3 people

      2. Yes! And I’m so for *combining* eastern and western medicine- great that you do yoga!!! but I’m SO thankful these medicines are out there! I also do love yoga, mindfulness, and trying to eat healthy (but I love me my ice cream! Lol) I know- it’s so hurtful when they say things like that but they don’t have your experience and have no right to judge! I’m trying to be honest and stick up for myself more- sometimes I hear someone shaming medication and I decide not to comment and keep it private that I take it- I just don’t want to deal with it! Unless you’re a doctor I think it’s so inappropriate to comment on someone’s medication! Thanks for your story and insight!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Rachel, I am judged so often for my medication. I actually stopped being around those who are the most judgemental. This has been a hard year for me. I chose to not take time for them.

        Liked by 2 people

      4. I’m so sorry to hear that- I have dealt with the same thing and I used to just take the bullying about it- now I stand up for myself confidently or do the same thing- stop being around those people and focus my energy on people who support what is right for me. Good for you! I’m so sorry it’s been a rough year- are things getting better now?

        Liked by 2 people

  2. So true ! Each word of it makes sense. It irritates the most when everyone around you becomes self-proclaimed doctor when you are on medication for depression, as if it was not a real illness, while even for normal cold and cough same people would tell you to consult a doctor. Hypocrites.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. i thank you for your words. well done. been there, done that, didn’t get the t-shirt.

    downward facing dog has a new meaning in my household the few times i did it at my house. it seemed to act as a permissive switch for my dogs to start licking my face.

    i totally get it about unsolicited advice that completely “cured” some one. i regularly get emails from my sister on the wonders of mindfulness. i find it frustrating and that frustration has gotten into serious trouble with her.

    ends up i have a decent mindfulness practice without. one key aspect of mindfulness is body awareness. i don’t know many people who can recognize four emotions by bodily reactions.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for your humor 🙂 and story! Made me smile. It can be so frustrating – I either try to educate or just nod and smile knowing I will not be taking their advice! Lol !!! I do use a lot of great eastern and alternative things but along with my treatment, not as a substitute! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This reminds me of the stupidity of my estranged brother saying to me when we were in our twenties that our manic depressive mother would be healed if she just went into a field and got very, very stoned. I hear he’s now told his son not to take the medication he’s been prescribed for ADHD. Great help, I don’t think. But it’s also made me realise that my brother probably has undiagnosed ADHD. Ah, the pitfalls of families! Thank you very much for following Rogues & Vagabonds.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. This is such an important post. Just as some cases of diabetes require insulin and some cases of tonsillitis require antibiotics, some cases of mental illness require medications. As you mention, sometimes they’re overprescribed, but for most people they are a necessary part of treatment. My hope is one day, mental illness will get the same attention and insurance coverage as other illnesses. It stems from biological processes and deserve to be treated as such. Those of us in health care have seen far too many people not get the care they need.

    Great post. Thank you for visiting my site. Much appreciated.

    Liked by 4 people

  6. For those who can manage their symptoms on yoga alone, I envy you. There was a time when I thought I could beat this thing with yoga alone…well, that didn’t get me very far. When I combined yoga with other things (including an open mind and hard work to feel better), I actually started to feel better. Imagine that? Medication and therapy are very important and necessary for many of us.

    Yoga, along with medications (if needed of course), therapy (also if needed), and meditation, might help one experience an improvement in their mental health symptoms. It’s your recovery…my recovery and there is no “one size fits all” here. Working hard and finding the right combination is important.

    I encourage people to try yoga as it calms the mind and spirit. But yoga is not for everyone and each of our decisions should be honored and respected. What works for me may not work for you and that’s ok.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Wonderful post and I agree with you 100%! I love yoga- and yoga and mindfulness help me so much! I envy people who can just use yoga as well! I think it’s wonderful!!!
      The thing I do want to stress is that no one should encourage anyone to STOP what they are doing for something else because they don’t think it’s natural enough- I have been shamed by a few people who don’t think anyone should take medication for depression- and they said I should stop and try other natural things- it was just very hurtful and like, “well if you only tried this…” And I had tried literally everything.
      I think you made a wonderful point that recovery is unique to that person and it can look like a lot of different things- we need to not judge one another and celebrate success and healing with whatever modalities work for that person!
      Thanks so much for your thoughtful post! 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Rachel. I have had many changes this year. My nephew (19 years old) committed suicide. A friend of 4o years died in a freak accident. And my boyfriends father died. I actually went to 2 funerals back to back. HELLO world. My poppa is dying from cancer, 2 other friends are dying from cancer. I am getting to know grief on a very intimate level. Combined with my son who is a paranoid schizophrenic, and on the streets without any medication.
    I have some brain damage from a traumatic head injury. I have damage to my right temporal lobe. I am going back to school. Testing next week. That’s right, Grandma is going back to college. It makes me nervous. But not.
    About the grief. Thoughts of the beauty the people I loved brought into this world. How my memories will live forever. And have been reborn since their passing. I have always been able to embrace my loved ones. It is a strange feeling knowing your loved ones are dying/suffering. We all are going to die though. Should I be treating them any differently. I am in my head. I will admit that.
    The suicide. I have different thoughts on that. It was the second one in my family in the last 3 years. I definitely think there needs to be a better awareness of what depression is in our family. Those that are christians in my family really need to stop saying that satan and his demons have possessed us. And get those young ones on some medication. The first suicide was my 22 year old cousin. My medication keeps me alive. I may yell that through a bullhorn one day. I have a solid counselor and psychiatrist. I keep moving forward. I have coffee. (very important). This year has just been really stormy. I am so serious this year. I actually left my sense of humor some where. If you see it will you tell it to come home?
    I am so much stronger than I ever thought I was.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Wow! I am amazed by your strength and courage. I am deeply sorry for your unimaginable losses.
      I feel the Christians saying that are incredibly wrong and misguided. These are illnesses and have nothing to do with demons. I am a Christian but very liberal and open. I think God wants us to take care of our precious selves and makes these medications and treatments possible. I believe science and medicine don’t have to be separate from God.
      It’s phenomenal that you are going back to school- it’s never too late and all things are possible! I finished college at my own pace and I am older than many people in my masters program. Because I am older I take it more seriously and have so much life experience to apply the education to. I’m a way better student then when I was 18-20. I think the oldest students are the most inspiring. The time will go by anyway! My mom (raised us as single mom) finished college later and now has a masters and is a very successful therapist! It sounds like one of my favorite quotes really applies to you this year
      “In the depth of winter
      I found within me
      An invincible summer”
      My heart is with you. You had such a traumatic year- I know you will rise up from it and find your laughter again. Love!

      Liked by 2 people

    2. I wish I could sit with you in person and just listen and share in your grief other than what I’m doing here. There are times when the heaviness, pain and ache of life seems to land on top of us all at once and I hear you. Wish we could share a cup of tea together.
      However, what I hear from you is someone who is still fighting. Hasn’t given up and is a loving and compassionate person experiencing understandible grief and also trying to make sense of it all. I started on anti-depressants when it looked like I was dying and quite frankly couldn’t cope. Who would? I haven’t stopped taking them, largely because I take so many medication for my auto-immune disease that I forget all about it. Taking it isn’t a huge issue for me, although I haven’t outed that fact on my blog, even though I write about living with adversity and am currently exploring happiness. Am I being dishonest? I don’t know. Whether people take medication or not isn’t an issue for me so it hasn’t come up. I’ve been close to people who have taken their lives and others who have tried or wanted to. It does set a storm in motion as people seek answers and explanations and deal with the guilt. I even felt bad when a Dad at the school took hi s life and I thought that I or we could have done something. I know Christians like you describe and they live in a bubble. You just wish they’d stay in it and not hurt other people. I’m a Christian myself but not so rigid and more into compassion…putting myself into other people’s shoes.
      By the way, I relate to what you say about losing your sense of humour. My dogs make me laugh.
      Take care and I wish you the very deepest blessings. Love, Rowena

      Liked by 2 people

  8. I can’t think of any other set of life threatening syndromes in which people feel entirely free to pass uninformed judgements. The only thing worse than “snap out of it” from a friend is the dismissive “mind your thoughts” school of mental health that is so popular among the accountants that work for HMO’s.

    Mindfulness really does work for people who can use it…..but for people with endogenous depressions, trauma and psychotic disorders, it’s like getting no treatment at all.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I know, right? Everyone is suddenly a doctor! It’s infuriating. Yes- a person can’t think their way out of these illnesses — mindfulness can be a compliment to treatment, but not treatment for a serious illness. Very good points!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. when I worked in Mental Health I trained in DBT and I know for a fact that it works for people who had difficulty regulating their emotions. Schizophrenia, Complex trauma, Dissociation these are much more than behavioral problems. And I find it infuriating that proper mental health treatment is so compromised by the blurring of the lines between psychiatric illness and behavioral health.

        DBT is helpful in managing some of the symptoms of endogenous depression but this kind of depression is not resolved by a happy faced behaviorist who thinks that all you have to do is ‘change your thoughts’ to get better.

        Although I will say that my rage at the stupidity of it all made me less suicidal. 🙂

        Liked by 3 people

      2. You just have to laugh at the ridiculousness sometimes, right? Ugh! This is so smart and important “I find it infuriating that proper mental health treatment is so compromised by the blurring of the lines between psychiatric illness and behavioral health.” Thank God you are here and advocating/spreading awareness! We need you… I can’t say things like that that well! hahahaha I am writing a musical about mental illness and it’s my way of educating and raising awareness about the huge problems in mental health care. I have a really funny character that is a life coach who is clueless about mental illness. It’s therapeutic to show what we’ve gone through as patients on stage and how wrong it is. So glad to connect with you!

        Liked by 2 people

    2. Thank you for making mention of this. My son’s mental illness does not leave him any room for mindfulness. There are way too many voices telling him what to do, what is right, wrong. When to eat, is it o.k. to eat. His food has talked to him. If he is not lucid he tells me people are putting those thoughts in his head. (I just realized I wished I could just pick him up and cradle him in my arms like a child)…Bad example about the food perhaps. His schizophrenia can be managed IF he takes his medication. Which he usually will not. He says the demons have told him the medicine is poison. And he is allergic to a number of anti-psychotics. I have spent the last two weeks working with DMHP and Crisis and Commitment and his case manager to have him put into the hospital so we can get him back on medications. It was frustrating, and prayerfully successful. I will know on the 20th. That is when the appointment is. I almost put my medications on my altar this morning. (That was a wee bit of humor).

      Liked by 3 people

      1. My heart goes out to you guys. 💜💜💜💜💜 what an amazing mom you are. Yes- it’s so infuriating that people would think he could think his way out of his condition and practice mindfulness w out treatment . It might be a great tool when people are on medication for their disorders, but no way an option alone for people w serious psychiatric illnesses

        Liked by 2 people

      2. It must be so frustrating for you to have a branch of medicine that refuses to see the differences in different forms of mental illness and also colludes with a legal system that pretends that it doesn’t know that people who have the most severe forms of illness are also too ill to make decisions for themselves. If we change nothing else we must change the law so that people like your son can get the treatment they need without the risk of landing on our streets….thank you for sharing your story with me,

        Liked by 3 people

  9. Have you tried yoga? (just kidding) 😉 😛

    I took medications for depression for some years, on and off. I was voluntarily in hospital (psych ward) in 2011 for a month at one very low point (a build up after losing my husband suddenly in 2006). I was on medication for depression at that time, since 2009.

    I met a great doctor there at the hospital, a very thorough lady doctor, who found breast cancer, for which I was treated. She was not taking on new patients, but I managed to become her patient anyway. I continued on meds after that. They certainly helped me get back onto my feet. But I did not like that I felt like someone else most of the time.

    I learned a lot from a depression recovery course I took, by Dr Neil Nedley. There were group discussions and much encouragement to find health through activity and nutrition, improving sleep, drinking water, using B12 as a supplement along with other recommended supplements. Eventually with activities such as yoga (there it is), square dance, bowling, walking, and lots of other things, and keeping my mind as busy as I can, my situation improved considerably.

    It came to a point, after completing the Nedley course. where I wanted to get off the meds, and I did. It was accidental in a sense. I moved away for 7 months, forgot my meds in the move, and was so busy with my young granddaughter (son on duty in Afghanistan) that I did not get around to thinking about that for several months, at which point I thought I might as well not take them. I began to feel more normal than I had been. That was 2 years ago.

    I’ve been on another helpful program called Bounce Back, since then. I still get bouts of depression, especially if I limit my activities, or don’t eat or sleep well. I have to watch it. I found the Bounce Back materials useful and very worthwhile, as well as the phone support they provided.

    A psychiatrist I was seeing until 2014 was trying to get me to think about Lithium. I was resistant to that idea. We had quite a few sessions and in the end, he summarized things to me this way (I ran home to write it down, haha!):

    “Doctor B says that since he saw me in 2012, in a state at that time, and he was recommending meds, which I have resisted strongly and continue to resist, he has seen me come through several life crises (relationships, finances etc) successfully over the last 2 years, working myself through them on my own without the use of psychiatric medications. He has seen my situation as improving through this time. He sees me as a strong, enduring individual, a survivor, who would benefit more from psychology rather than psychiatry. He no longer sees the need for us to meet, unless I request it, and as long as I am continuing with self help strategies such as exercise, activities, the Bounce Back program, etc, he thinks I’m going to manage just fine.”

    That made me very happy….

    So, in retrospect, I’m not for or against medications for people. Some people need them more than others. Some need them to function properly. If so, they should take them, for their own safety and for the safety of others around them. I personally would prefer not to take them, if I can find other ways to successfully help myself. I may need them again at some point. Who knows? Each one of us needs to be comfortable where we are at any given time. We are doing the best we can under our individual circumstances.

    Sorry this got so long. I did not realize this was going to develop into a post, once I began writing! I guess I will post it on my blog now!

    Thanks for sharing your story! ❤

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hahaha you cracked me up! You’re story is so important, too! I think it’s great when people don’t need medication – I just think it’s the patients and their doctors job to decide- not a friend who suddenly thinks they are a doctor and know what is best for someone. I’m so so glad you’ve been able to get through and thrive with these great modalities! Looking forward to reading more of your blog! ☺️☺️😋

      Liked by 4 people

  10. Robert, the legal system IS slow, and frustrating. You are so right. It can be heartbreaking. And on top of that, I do grieve that my adult child has to suffer. The laws here are changing. Slowly but surely. The old law which stated we cannot hospitalize him until he hurts himself or somebody else has changed some. I got letters from friends and family who have been with Brett that stated his behavior, and gave them to crisis and commitment. I have to go to court with the RCW and stand in the front of a judge and make mention of the RCW, DMHP will be there as well as his case manager. It took me 2 weeks before I knew that. My own psychiatrist told me. The light at the end of this tunnel came from my own counselor and psychiatrist. My counselor worked as a case manager and knows the ends and outs of this path. And my doctor knows the RCW. Gratitude shout out. I practiced mindfulness during my frustration and anxiety because my son’s case manager did not know. He does now. May it help many others who are suffering.
    I am exhausted.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Hi Rachel,
    What a great post and discussion you got going here. Well done all and many thanks. I found it very helpful exploring what is such a taboo subject with such openness. There are some great ideas here.
    I wanted to share an eye-opening revelation for me. You see, I take a low dose anti-depressant but I also take large doses of medication to treat a life-threatening auto-immune disease and the same pressures with trying to get off my meds or reduce them applies.
    A few years ago, I had a stroke of luck because my rheumatologist came from a Chinese background and I thought well-positioned to tell me whether Chinese medicine would help or not. His reply was interesting. Firstly, that the Chinese meds when combined with my normal medication could lead to liver damage and they wouldn’t know which was causing it so not a good idea. He used acupuncture and said that while it wouldn’t cure my disease, it would help my general health.
    Now, I missed the whole point of that entirely and didn’t proceed with acupuncture etc.
    However, the important thing is that we get our general health to the very best place we can which is a multi-pronged approach. We might not “fix” the problem but we are giving ourselves the best chance of being healthy and hopefully happy or content.
    It sounds like many of you are already doing this so keep up the good work.
    There’s no shame in taking meds. Indeed, not taking meds can lead to senseless deaths and incredible suffering. That is a greater shame.
    Take care all. I send you my love! xx Rowena

    Liked by 1 person

  12. But The Secret” says I attracted this. *wink*

    That was probably my favorite part of your latest post. That and “Petal” introducing herself. I once saw a life coach (she calls herself a “trust” coach). She meant well, but I felt quite invalidated overall. Love your posts. I usually end up crying happy tears. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Omgggg! Thanks so much!! 😍 now I’m going to cry happy tears!! 😅😅😅Petal is also in the musical I’m writing about mental illness! Ya- it was therapeutic to make fun of all those times I’ve felt invalidated, judged etc. ☺️ sooooo happy to meet you!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. As a mental health provider AND a Buddhist minister, it always concerns me when people confuse sadness and depression– spiritual development and existential searching for substitutes for real biological conditions.

    Sure there are people who want oxycodone for a sprained ankle, or chronic gout. For them pain killers are the wrong solution. And sure there are people who could be better off not being on meds and finding talk therapy or somatic solutions to their mental health issues. That doesn’t negate the fact that there are some sufferers who really do need oxycodone for their pain and prozac for their depression.

    Liked by 1 person

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