When it comes to medications for mental illness, my 25 years of experience tells me that you can only assume one thing with reasonable accuracy: people have strong feeling about taking medications for mental illness. I’m a professor of psychiatry and a pharmacist. A lot of what I do is meet with families to speak with them, individually or in support groups, to talk about medications for mental illness. While no two stories are the same, there are a few common themes, for example concerns about side effects, becoming dependent (“addicted”) and a wish for more effective medications – finding that magic pill.
There are widely available resources (written and electronic) that provide information about medications for mental illness (the so-called psychotropic medications), but what they provide is information not the ability to make an informed treatment decision. To do this requires selecting and combining the right information that fits the context of the full “story”. What is the diagnosis? Is it a classic picture of this diagnosis or is there a lot of uncertainty about it? What other health problems (mental and physical) exist? What past treatments, medications and otherwise, have been tried? What were the experiences with those treatments? What personal supports are in place? What is the individual’s preferred options and why? There is only one way that I know of that helps people make informed medication decisions and it is not by giving them a bunch of reading, it is by giving them information that is relevant and putting that information in context. Then they are armed to truly participate in the decision. It is with this in mind that Med Ed was conceived.
The first of its kind, Med Ed is for people who are thinking about or are already taking medications for mental illness or related symptoms. It includes answers to common and less common questions about these medications as well as checklists and other tools to make tracking symptoms, activities, and side effects easy. Brief information is provided about medications known as antidepressants, antipsychotics, anti-anxiety and sleep medications, stimulants, and mood stabilizers. There are tools to help keep track of the medications, by name, dose, and directions, and a glossary to help understand the many different terms.
Nearly every component of Med Ed encourages dialogue and a team approach to making decisions and for monitoring how the treatment is going. It provides mental health medication education and treatment tracking for people of all ages. It was originally developed, in English and French, by Drs. Murphy, Gardner, and Kutcher of Dalhousie University in collaboration with the Ontario Centre of Excellence for Child and Youth Mental Health at CHEO. Now, in collaboration with the Multicultural Mental Health Resource Centre at McGill University, new versions of Med Ed have been developed in Arabic and Chinese.
Med Ed was created using the best available evidence regarding use, design, impact of medication resources and management of mental illness. The intention is to provide patients, their families, and health care providers with information and tools about medications for mental illnesses that help them work together to better plan and track the effects of the medications. Unlike most health and medication information resources, Med Ed encourages face-to-face discussions involving patients, families, and health providers so that the most important issues get discussed.
Professor of Psychiatry and Pharmacy
Med Ed is available on this website in English, French, Arabic and Simplified Chinese.