Psychiatric medications and autism

I have been taking anti-psychotic medication since 1995. I have been on several different medications. I think I have tried all of them actually! I also take mood stabilisers and an anti anxiety medication.

Like many people with schizophrenia I often doubt that I need the meds. If I am well for a long period of time I imagine that I am OK and the medication isn’t necessary. I have discovered that I actually do need the meds through painful experience. A nurse told m that schizophrenia meds are like insulin for diabetics in that if I take them I will feel healthy by if I stop taking them I will definitely know about it! I had one episode of illness where I mistakenly believed the meds were causing my illness. I convinced my GP to reduce the dose! Obviously this meant I got more unwell and ultimately had to take more medication!

Some people think psychiatry is a bad thing and that medication is a means of control. I have some sympathy with this view but I also know my medication is necessary and with out it I will not be in a very good place, putting it mildly! I have been placed on treatment orders in the past and forced to take meds and it isn’t pleasant but being psychotic or depressed is also not pleasant.

Medications can have side effects. Anti-psychotics are particularly known for this. Common side effects are weight gain, dry mouth, tremors, sedation and movement disorders. Sometimes it is a trade off between the benefit you get from the medication versus the issues with side effects. For me as a person with schizophrenia it isn’t really an option to stop taking my meds so, like many people, I have to live with the side effects. However different meds can have different levels of side effects so it can be a bit of trial and error as to which medication has the lower level fo side effects as well as which one is more effective. Medications can also have interactions with other drugs. Make sure you tell the pharmacist what you are taking when you purchase any other medications, even over the counter things.

Many autistic people take psychiatric medication, particularly things like anti-depressants and anxiety meds. Autistic people often need a much smaller or a much larger dose of medication than others do. Autistic people can also have paradoxical reactions to medication. It is important to get a psychiatrist who understands medication and autism although there are not a lot of those around! With recommendations for clinicians I always advise asking other autistics in your area for suggestions about who is a good psychiatrist. Although it is important to know that different doctors work well for different people and often one person’s preferred clinician does not work out for them.

Talking of preference, I am often asked what medication I take from people who want a recommendation of what the best meds are. Sadly the meds that work for me may not work for others. Psychiatric medications are very much an individual thing. I recently started sertraline for anxiety. It has been very effective and my anxiety is much better controlled than it was. However I know that while sertraline works really well for me it may not work for others – or it might! Sadly psychiatric medications are a very individual thing and often some trial ad error is required to get the right mix for you. 

As a person with schizophrenia who has been taking meds for over 25 years I have realised that I will almost certainly need to take heavy duty medication for the rest of my life. Coming to terms with this requires a good amount of radical acceptance. In fact radical acceptance  is pretty much necessary for me with all my various brain-related differences, but accepting that I need to take meds which have side effects that could kill me (clozapine has some potentially life threatening side effects) and that takes away all my sex drive is really challenging. I don’t think I am quite ‘there’ yet but I’m working on it. Acceptance is a very useful psychological skill which can make life less challenging.

A lot of kids and teens take meds these days, especially for ADD / ADHD. I have heard people say this is a bad thing. I tend to think if meds help someone then they should take them. That being said – and I speak form personal experience here – if you have a psychotic illness like schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder – don’t ever take ADHD meds. ADHD meds are stimulants and they can trigger off the psychosis chemicals in your brain. This happened to me a couple of years ago and I am still recovering. 

Not all mental health issues can be treated with medication. And some conditions that benefit from meds also benefit from talk therapy, mindfulness or psychological therapies like CBT or DBT. Mental illnesses often respond to a combination of psychological therapies and medication. Some medications are used for multiple issues. Some anti-psychotics like Seroquel are used in low doses for anxiety or sleep and some anti-depressants are used to treat anxiety.

Despite the negatives I like my meds. They allow me to live a meaningful life (mostly) free from psychosis and depression. When I went on clozapine (anti-psychotic) I had tried all the other anti-psychotic drugs. I remember looking at the tablets in my hand and saying ‘be my good friend little clozapines’ and they have been. My psychiatrist says I am as good as he has ever seen me after I started taking clozapine and my thinking is clearer than ever so big yay to that! I also have an anxiety medication which I started recently and which has been life-changing.

Meds are a necessary part of many people/s lives. It is definitely not shameful or embarrassing to have to take tham. If they help you then that is great. 

2 thoughts on “Psychiatric medications and autism

  1. Thanks Yenn, I watched your talk with Venn on Paul Micallef’s ASD online conference recently. Now, at 71, & recent, eventual diagnosis, & in touch with the one of my alert & proactive cousins. We have many in our convoluted, very diverse neurologically challenged family, to hear from you regarding comorbidity of bi polar & ASD is good. To find balance intellectually & understanding of one’s self is a most desirable outcome. It still is so harrowing to have endured my mysterious life, watched one’s children suffer & now try to support others online, who are still hitting brick walls. Consternation, that I have lived, & relatively ineffectively raised my boys in Lindfield, a few miles from Macquarie University !! Of course, only my 31 year old son was diagnosed with ASD, albeit too late for effective resources.

    Liked by 1 person

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