My name is Elise . . .
I am twenty-one years old; however, the events that have taken place in my life so far seem to have delayed the progress of my life. In many aspects, I am still a child. I don't believe I am lacking in emotional maturity, yet I have been lodged in a socially retarded position. I believe this degraded standard of living is a direct result of my involvement with the mental health community.
Six years ago, I began to see a psychologist. My parents were concerned, as I had been displaying signs of depression. At that point, I didn't necessarily agree with this assumption. Granted, I was a little distressed due to my recent transition into high school… but aren't all freshman? There was also the added stress of my choice to attend a Catholic high school and this meant many if not all of my friends from grammar school would no longer be in my class. I had to make all new friends, and I gravitated toward the kids with similar interests to my own, which have been inexplicably morbid for as long as I can remember. I do have a dark sense of humor, but when I was fifteen it was nothing more than that. The real trouble came later, after my visits to the psychologist became visits to the psychiatrist.
I don't see anything wrong with "going to therapy." I'm sure talking to a therapist was a good outlet for me at that fragile stage in my life. The problem I'd like to address is not general psychiatric treatment; but the specific dangers of psychiatric medication. I believe the introduction of substances like these to a child or a teen is extremely dangerous. Although I was thoroughly warned of any health risks I could encounter, I based my decision on the positive changes I would encounter. Yes, I chose to take these medications-but I was a profoundly naïve sixteen year old girl. I was under the impression that all I would ever have to do was swallow the magic pill.
I had no clue how the next five years of my life would play out. If anything, I anticipated to glide through high school smoothly, happy and productive. I had to drop out of high school junior year, despite the fact that my grades were among the top of my class. I missed too many classes due to several nights in a crisis center, outpatient therapy that took place in the morning, and eventually a two-week inpatient stay on an adolescent psychiatric ward. When I was sixteen, I started drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes and marijuana, indulging in acts of self-mutilation, and "running away" from home. My parents did everything they could. My psychiatrist did more. Between the ages of sixteen and twenty I was prescribed over 20 different psychiatric medications.
As I said, I am twenty-one years old now. It was my 2008 New Year's Resolution to gradually reduce my daily doses of Lithium and Seroquel; these were the last two medications I took regularly. They were also the two medications I had taken the longest, over three years each. I was finally clean in March, and I was so relieved to be done with that whole experience… I feel wonderful. But this newfound clarity has revealed a side of my treatment I had been too distracted to grasp. I was coerced into becoming a legal drug addict at a disturbingly young age. The real trouble came after I was medicated.
Immediately after I dropped out of high school, I took the GED exam. My score was exceptional, and I started to take a few classes at a community college. Then I dropped out of college, too. I've lost half a dozen jobs. I do not know how to drive a car. I have never had the opportunity to manage my own life. Because of this, my wedding to the man I love has been postponed indefinitely. I am suffering extremely high levels of anxiety when it comes to re-orienting myself with society, and I do not truly believe this has everything to do with a preexisting medical condition. The past five years of "treatment" have been traumatizing.
I have had to request disability benefits to try and support myself; my parents have spent an obscene amount of money on my medical treatment and have gone bankrupt. There were other contributing factors to my parents' financial difficulty, though my expenses are monumental. My family and I have had to move into a house that is half the size of our old house. I am one of six people; I also have a nineteen-year-old sister, a fourteen-year-old sister, and a ten-year-old brother. I volunteered to occupy the unfinished basement so that everyone else could have a bedroom. I do not blame my family for this mess, as they have been unrelentingly supportive. They'd like me to have a better life, just as much as I do… but they cannot help me financially anymore. Medicaid simply doesn't cut it. My entire life has been reduced to a prescription.
The phrase "If only I hadn't swallowed that first pill…" is constantly on my mind. My fifteen-year-old self had so much potential; I was a great student, I was my art teacher's pride pupil, I was a blue ribbon equestrian. I didn't have any scars. For the first time in five years, I feel like I can be that kind of girl again… at least that's how I feel. I am five crucial years behind any normal person of my age-and I am so emotionally damaged, I'm not sure I'll ever be able to catch up.
It should not be legal in any way, shape, or form to medicate children like this. Psychiatric medication has stunted my growth as an individual. The companies that make and sell these drugs have an inherent responsibility to refrain from distributing them to people who are simply not capable of comprehending the long-term effects. As an adult, I am well aware of the things I should have considered before swallowing that first pill. As an adolescent I certainly was not. A person presented with that kind of choice should have enough life experience to make it properly. Now, I fear I may never have the chance to experience adult life the way it was meant to be.
I am certainly not saying my psychiatrist or the medications he prescribed caused my "disorder." I am saying that in the case of a troubled adolescent, certain medications should not be implemented because some "side effects" may not occur until much later in that person's life…physical, and emotional side effects. I think drug manufacturers are aware of this risk, and yet they continue to sell these drugs without taking the precaution of imposing an age restriction. I think it should be illegal for any person under a certain age to consume medicines like Lithium and Seroquel. I do not think these companies should be able to sell them, otherwise.
I will suffer the stigma of a mental patient for the rest of my life, even if I no longer take psychiatric medication. I want drug companies to outline the emotional side effects of their product just as clearly as the physical side effects, and offer this information to potential patients who are of an appropriate age to understand that kind of risk. I wish to be compensated for my personal losses on account of their negligence.