The terrible side-effects of antipsychotic drugs
I currently have a diagnosis of the mental health condition schizoaffective disorder (schizophrenia with bipolar elements). Over the past six years I have experienced three episodes of psychosis, and I have taken five different kinds of antipsychotic medication as doctors have attempted to treat the condition. These include Olanzapine, Quetiapine, Aripiprazole, Risperidone, and Amisulpride.
The side effects of these drugs are very serious. They are designed to alter brain states, but the physical effects are severe. When taking Olanzapine, I put on huge amounts of weight. The weight distribution with Olanzapine is not even, so the body morphs into a strange shape. You can tell by looking at people whether they are taking Olanzapine. I was constantly hungry when taking this drug. It is also sedative, so I was always tired when taking it. I felt depressed all the time, and I had disturbed sleep states with terrible dreams. In terms of side effects, this is the worst antipsychotic drug I have taken.
Aripiprazole alters the body in a different way. There is no significant weight gain, but instead one feels a permanent tension in the left hand side of the brain, which is frustrating and inhibiting. At the same time there is an urge to constantly move one’s legs – a side effect known as ‘akathisia’ – which is very uncomfortable and irritating. When taking this drug it is very difficult to be around other people – I couldn’t get on buses or trains because I felt easily suffocated and self-conscious about the constant need to move my legs.
The other antipsychotic drugs that I have taken also had severe side effects. Quetiapine, in particular, affected my heart significantly and I had frequent palpitations and the uncomfortable feeling that my internal organs were being weakened by a kind of poison. With Risperidone I was told about the risk of infertility, and that I might start gaining weight around my chest in a way that would be very embarrassing. Luckily I stopped taking this drug before those terrible side-effects kicked in.
I currently take a low dose of Amisulpride, and I don’t notice any serious side effects. There is sometimes a mild nausea, but this was much worse when I was on a higher dose, so I can’t complain. I feel very lucky that at the present time I have a normal, clear, and healthy state of mind, and that I am not having to wrestle with the terrible side-effects that come with taking high doses of antipsychotic medication.
Do antipsychotic drugs even work, or is there a better way?
I have never known anyone who can confidently say that they understand human thought. Scientists tend to associate thought with the brain, but beyond that, they admit the mysterious nature of thought and that “we don’t yet understand” the brain.
From my own perspective, I feel that scientists are misguided when they focus on the brain to try and understand thought. I believe that thought comes from God (not the brain), and I find it perfectly feasible that thought could exist without the brain or any kind of structure similar to the brain. Therefore I wonder whether the Western approach to schizophrenia treatment – the use of anti-psychotic drugs – is really the best way to approach this mental health problem?
There is no doubt that the severe effect that antipsychotics have on the body affects the mind in some way. For instance, if you are taking drugs that make you feel constantly tired and depressed, you are less likely to have the kind of hyper thoughts that are often present in psychosis. So from that perspective, antipsychotic drugs do indeed have an affect on the mind.
But might there be a more humane and healthy way of dealing with disturbed states of mind? In my experience, a conversation with someone who has experienced psychosis themselves and can relate to what you are going through can affect your mind in a positive way just as much as a drug can. Could it not be that by surrounding ourselves with the right influences, and having the right conversations, we could return to a normal state of mind, without the need to take drugs that have such a terrible effect on the body?
Scientists will continue to try to understand the mind in terms of the brain, and I think that their attempts will prove futile. While scientists ignore the spiritual aspect of existence – the fact that there is an all-powerful God in control of the cosmos – they will never be able to see the human mind in a realistic way. Trying to understand the mind by looking at the brain is like trying to understand the game of football by looking at a football – it is a waste of time and energy.
When treating mental health conditions we need to focus on the person, not the brain. We need to acknowledge the impact that the correct kind of conversations and lifestyle can have, and not invest heavily in pills that are ineffective and inhumane.
For my part, I will keep taking my low dose of Amisulpride, and I will hope and pray that the side effects remain under control and that my body won’t suffer serious long-term damage as a result of me taking the pills. I am taking them not so much because I believe in the power of antipsychotics to change thoughts, but because my friends and family believe in science and therefore feel a sense of reassurance knowing I am taking the pills. Their peace of mind gives me peace of mind, so from that perspective, it is a worthwhile endeavour taking the drugs.