Prescription meds a ‘waste of time’ for unwell teen

Bethany Robertson has come back from chronic fatigue. Picture Nell O’Shea Carre.

By NELL O’SHEA CARRE

Until last year, VCE student Bethany Robertson was taking 30 prescription tablets a day to treat her chronic fatigue, anxiety and depression.

Ms Robertson, who had experienced health issues for five years, said she was “lost”.

“I just had to stay at home. I lost lots of friends because I couldn’t do social things. I couldn’t go to school,” she said.

She said the decision to try a non-drug treatment regimen – The Lightning Process, which focuses on mindfulness and other types of care – changed her life.

“They explain how fatigue and pain work, how the brain gets stuck into patterns,” Ms Robertson said.

She cannot count how many doctors she had already seen before she flew to Noosa to complete the three-day course.

“After the first day, I rang my dad and two friends and said, ‘I’m better’.”

Ms Robertson said she was still taking a low dosage of antidepressants to avoid facing withdrawal while completing year 12.

Bethany Robertson was on 30 different medications at one stage in her care.

“Because I was on such a high dose, the ‘going off’ takes a big toll on me,” she said.

Alcohol and Drug Foundation national policy manager Geoff Munro said the foundation encouraged doctors to prescribe more non-pharmacological treatments.

“The drug never solves the problem. It’s a short-term fix,” he said.

Counsellor and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction teacher Maggie O’Shea said medication might relieve the symptoms of mental health problems, but it did not address the causes.

“People need to understand what’s making them depressed, including their own patterns of rumination, and how they react to all the challenges in life,” she said.

Mr Munro said that in some serious cases drugs were “appropriate”.  

Ms Robertson agreed.

“There’s a place for that kind of medication, for people who aren’t ready to take control and work hard. But with chronic fatigue, and with depression and anxiety, I think [non-pharmacological treatment] is the only way,” she said.

She said that initially, it was suspected she had glandular fever, and then she developed depression and anxiety, and later was diagnosed with chronic fatigue. She was out on anti-depressants. 

“In 2015, I went to a chronic fatigue specialist and ended up on 30 tablets a day, and vitamin injections every day,” she said. These tablets included pharmacological and other medications. 

“It didn’t help. And a diet – I was gluten free, dairy free, egg free, sugar free, fructose free, everything free for a year. I really tried it, and it didn’t help. I ended up in hospital at the end of 2015, because I was really sick, more mentally than physically.”

She said she thought doctors had done their best, but none of it had helped her.

“I can’t count how many doctors I’ve seen. And I’ve done all the naturopath, chiropractor, kinesiology, acupuncture, all of that as well. I went to the Royal Children’s hospital for my first two years of being sick. It didn’t do anything. They couldn’t figure it out.

 In 2012, I was only 14, and I was so lost.

“And then this chronic fatigue specialist, who gave me 30 tablets a day, obviously that’s helped some of his patients, and I can’t really say that he’s terrible because obviously he’s helped some people.

“But for me it was just not helpful at all. And it was a waste of time because I spent a year persisting with it and it didn’t do anything.”

She said she was very sceptical when she first heard about the Lightning Process, but after she talked to people who had done it, she decided to give it a try. 

“It was incredible,” she said. She said it wasn’t easy, and she still returned to the teachings  if she felt herself falling into old patterns. It’s not something she could have done when she was younger, she said. 

“I know that, in 2012, I was only 14, and I was so lost. I wouldn’t have been able to do the process, and it wouldn’t have helped me in the same way. I needed medication,” she said.

“But it didn’t make me better, it made me cope, but it didn’t make me get over it.”