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When a character takes medication for a mental illness, they might feel that something that made them unique is taken away. Alternatively, the side effects make them miserable. So the character (or sometimes a parent/guardian) decides to drop the Blessed with Suck meds to live life insane but alive. This can happen in Real Life; medication can affect brain chemistry in ways that inhibit mental skills, as everybody reacts differently to different types of medication. But such a scenario should always be discussed with one's doctor (and a second opinion never hurts) rather than going cold turkey.
In fictionland, however, it is very common for certain patients to get on their meds, become functional, then decide they are "cured," or have some kind of epiphany and decide they don't really need the medication anymore. This is often accompanied by a shot of the character throwing their bottle of pills in the trash.
What's often intended as a Crowning Moment of Awesome instead becomes Television Is Trying to Kill Us. Doing this in Real Life can be harmful and possibly deadly from withdrawal symptoms (which can include suicidal tendencies in the case of mood stabilizers). Also, some symptoms of mental illnesses can only be successfully controlled through the use of medication. As stated above, there are multiple valid reasons for going off psychiatric medication, but it's always safer to discuss it with a mental health professional.
Covered in and used as a justification for Flowers for Algernon Syndrome.
- Doc Will Magnus, creator of the Metal Men, takes regular medication to treat his Manic/Depressive bipolar disorder with delusional episodes, but his 'stabilised' self is also less inventive. in Fifty Two, a group of Super Villain Mad Scientist types kidnap him, confiscate his medication, and set him to work, intending to get him to recreate the Doomsday Device Plutonium Man that he made the last time he went nuts. However, this does not lead to the results that the mad scientist types had hoped for, and Magnus winds up tearing apart their criminal organization from the inside.
"You shouldn't have taken away my meds! I told you... I do crazy things without my meds!"
- Todd Rice aka Obsidian of Justice Society of America and Infinity Inc averts this and knows he needs to take medication for his schizophrenia, and when he starts acting strangely his teammates wonder aloud if he's gotten off of it (turns out it was due to something completed unrelated).
- In Lab Rat, the prequel comic to Portal 2, Doug Rattmann avoids taking medication for his schizophrenia. In a subversion, however, he recognizes he needs it, but because he's running low he saves it for when he really needs it to escape.
- Garden State is something of a subversion, since its made clear he never really needed the medication in the first place. His father acted as his psychiatrist (which the film lampshades as very bad practice) and reacted quite emotionally to him pushing his depressed mother in a childish outburst just as the dishwasher door accidentally opened, which caused her to fall over and become paraplegic. The fact that the father was unwilling to accept it as a freak accident caused him to conclude his son had intense emotional problems; hence the unnecessary medication.
- In A Beautiful Mind (itself ostensibly based on John Nash's life), his anti-psychotic medication impairs his mathematical ability. Because of this, he ends up dropping it so he can continue his career. This is also subverted, since he mentions to his colleagues during the Nobel ceremony that he is taking the latest medications (probably due to the fact that modern medications have less side-effects). As well as that, when he's off the medication, he occasionally has to consult with people he's familiar with (e.g. his students) to make sure the things he's seeing are real. The Real Life Nash never got back to medication; Ron Howard added the line to the movie specifically to avoid the negative implication toward anti-psychotic medications, but this has been decried by (some) mental health advocacy groups.
- Played rather disturbingly in Observeand Report.
- Lampshaded/played with in Repo! The Genetic Opera. We never find out what Nathan's medicine was intended for, and it's definitely got some nasty side-effects given what it does to Shilo. And going off it may not have made any major difference - but we don't know that it really helped either, since Nathan is noticeably free-falling off the edge, if not actually leaping off of it, by the time the opera rolls around and he wasn't exactly the poster child for mental stability beforehand, and Shilo wasn't sick in the first place since Nathan was just trying to keep her in the house.
- A rare subversion in As Good as It Gets: Obsessive-compulsive Melvin starts taking medication for his disorder because Love Interest Carol makes him want to be a better man.
"I've got this, what--ailment? My doctor, a shrink that I used to go to all the time, he says that in fifty or sixty percent of the cases, a pill really helps. I hate pills, very dangerous thing, pills. Hate. I'm using the word "hate" here, about pills. Hate. My compliment is, that night when you came over and told me that you would never... well, you were there, you know what you said. Well, my compliment to you is, the next morning, I started taking the pills."
- Played straight in What the Bleep Do We Know, when the main character tosses away her anti-anxiety medication after she starts feeling good about herself.
- In Terry Pratchett's Discworld:
- Making Money: Mad Artist Owlswick Jenkins is healed via turnip transplant (which leaves him quite content, but the turnip...), but, alas, he loses his artistic talent
- Thief of Time: Jeremy Clockson used to take a spoonful of medication every day -- and pour it down the sink once he found it suppressed his creativity.
- In Isaac Asimov's short story "Light Verse", a robot that is malfunctioning is the creator of light sculptures. When its unique problem is "fixed", it can't create anymore. The robot's owner murders the scientist who fixed it, but it's noted that the victim (who has just realized that he's singlehandedly cut off what could have been a fruitful avenue of robotics research) utterly -- perhaps intentionally -- fails to defend himself.
- In The Phoenix Dance, Phoenix is bipolar and becomes incredibly creative in her "up" moods, so she starts taking less of her medicine to keep the good moods. Unfortunately, this just means that her bouts of depression come back, too.
- In One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest it is mentioned that the anti-seizure medication causes your teeth to fall out, which is a good reason why some of the patients don't want to take it. One gets the unfortunate side effect mentioned above, and decides he'd rather have the seizures; the other is terrified of having a seizure, and takes the medication intended for the first epileptic as well as his own to make sure he avoids it. In real life decreased salivation ("cotton mouth") is a side-effect of most psychoactive drugs of various kinds and daily use over a long period of time is likely to wreck your teeth.
- Serge Storms, the protagonist of the Florida Roadkill novels, is supposed to be on quite a lot of anti-psychotic drugs. He often skips doses because they keep him from thinking clearly. When he skips doses for too long (Something that he is usually in the middle of doing in every single book), he goes on killing sprees.
- An episode of Boston Public had a hyperactive genius piano player, who gets put on Ritalin and doesn't want to play anymore.
- Any and all Monk episodes where they try to cure Monk's OCD. He becomes really annoying and can't solve mysteries very well.
- Ally McBeal angsts that medication that takes away her hallucinations takes away her uniqueness.
- Several episodes of Law and Order Special Victims Unit featured schizophrenics of this type, who were usually forced to take drugs to testify after witnessing crimes. It explored both sides of this trope at different times. In one instance, the medication allowed the guy to get his life back together, and he eventually reunited with his estranged wife and son. Another episode had a different schizophrenic, who was so used to living with hallucinations that, when the drugs made them go away, he missed them so much he got depressed and killed himself.
- Detective Goren, who has experience with mental illness in the family, spells out the faulty thought process that often leads to this trope (when it's not a conscious choice):
Goren: Only sick people take medications. If I don't take the meds, I'm not sick.
- The original series was the first to explore this trope with the episode Pro Se. A schizophrenic man who has been off his meds for years kills about 8 people in a clothing store. When forced to take his medication, it's revealed that he is quite the brilliant attorney and represents himself, almost beating McCoy in court. When his sister comes forth with damning testimony, he pleads out and goes back off his medication. His reasons for not taking it are the reasons many people on anti-psychotics refuse to:
James Smith: I'm using every ounce of strength I have just to talk to you. I feel like I'm pawing through a wool blanket. I feel stiff, and like I'm half a mile behind everyone else. I get so damned tired. It takes so much effort, holding on to reality.
- "Haywire" in Prison Break loses his photographic memory (and perhaps his mathematical genius) when he takes drugs to treat his collection of mental disorders.
- Averted in New Tricks. If Brian "Memory" Lane stops taking his meds then, as he puts it himself (when he was speaking to a medicated schizophrenic), "I turn into Mr. Loopy, like you.". A couple of episodes demonstrated this; when he didn't take his meds, he was intensely manic and unstable, and thus no good at his job whatsoever.
- Leads to tragedy in more than one episode of CSI.
- Tragic example: Heroes Season Two's flashback episode sees Niki trying to treat her Split Personality with medication, only to find herself as lively as a pile of seaweed. She surreptitiously stops taking it, and soon loses control of herself again, losing her husband in the process.
- Babylon 5: Human telepaths are required to join Psi Corps or take drugs which suppress their telepathy for the rest of their life. Unfortunately, the drugs have side effects similar to clinical depression. Ivanova despises the Psi Corps because her mother was a non-Corps telepath, and was eventually driven to suicide by her use of the drugs.
- The entire premise of United States of Tara--She went off her meds to discover the cause of her DID.
- In Criminal Minds, Reid's schizophrenic mother forwent her meds when she was pregnant with him. She goes off them again during the timeline of the series in an attempt to remember an event from Reid's past.
- The episode "Haunted" is about a man who went off his antipsychotic meds (with the approval of his psychiatrist) in order to access repressed childhood memories. These memories end up being much worse than anyone had imagined, causing him to snap and go on a killing spree.
- The reason Billy goes off his meds in Six Feet Under.
- This is one of House reasons to stop taking the Methadone, which cured his pain in the leg better than Vicodine, but he also felt that the lack of pain affected his deducting abilities. He uses the same argument in the first episodes of Season Six when Dr. Nolan insists in giving him SSRIs, he's afraid of losing himself and his abilities. He ends up taking them, anyway.
- In the episode "No More Mr. Nice Guy" occurs a little variation of this trope: House employees test a sample of his blood without his consent and discover that he has neurosyphilis. They assume that the effect of the disease in his brain is the reason House is such a huge jerk. They prescribe him with a medication. Suddenly he starts acting a little nicer. All the employees then start asking themselves whether they did the right thing or if he is going to lose what makes him so unique. In the end of the episode it was all a prank of House, of course
Kutner: We gave Van Gogh chelation therapy. Turned him into a house painter.
Taub: Maybe not, maybe we just put Hitler on Ritalin.
- Duncan spends most of an episode of Veronica Mars avoiding taking his antidepressants. After jumping off a set of bleachers and injuring his head and then having an atypically vivid daydream, he ends up deciding that he's better off taking them after all.
- In Harpers Island, Henry's brother J.D. needs to regularly take multiple pills. Though he tends to stop taking them now and then because it makes him feel "foggy". When he's off his pills he tends to do irrational things, like gutting a deer's throat and leaving it on the hood of someone's car and smearing threatening messages on their windshield with its blood.
- Has happened to both Craig and Eli in Degrassi.
- The Panda Bear song "Take Pills" is about getting off of antidepressants.
- Diana from Next to Normal insists on this multiple times, most notably in "Didn't I See This Movie?", after her doctor recommends electro-shock therapy.
- Rebecca and Sara in Code 21 feel this way, with good reason.
- When we first meet Gary in Bully, he says he's taking meds for ADD and other problems. At the end of the game's first chapter, he says that he's gone off them and feels great. Because he's the main villain, this just ends up making him more unhinged.
- In A Miracle of Science, Manny underdoses his anti-Science-Related Memetic Disorder medication due to it making thinking harder, but ends up going back on the meds once he gets caught. It's never explicitly stated how much Manny altered his dosage, but Prester remarks that you have to take the full dosage for it to actually work at suppressing his SRMD. It's a nasty situation; without the meds, his programming skills can practically twist the laws of physics. With them, he's mediocre at best. Of course, without them, he's also prone to making plans of World Domination, whipping out an Evil Laugh, and just generally being a Mad Scientist.
- Tragically subverted in Goblin Hollow here
- In The Last Days of Foxhound, Ocelot throws away his medication for Chronic Backstabbing Disorder just before finally beginning the series of betrayals he's been plotting for years.
- Homestuck: Gamzee Makara is a nice guy who considers everybody his friends and would rather eat pies with imps than fight them. Then he sobers up...
- In Sinfest, Fuschia spits out her medicine. Given that the problem is that falling in love is making her better, it ends better than most.
- A recent strip of Penny Arcade depicts Tycho looking over the last few strips he'd written while his Lexapro prescription had run out and marveling at his creativity. Gabe also called him out that during that time he was also "wrestling with demons of the mind".
- The Simpsons had one where Bart takes "Focusyn" to combat ADHD, and it makes him wicked paranoid. Major League Baseball is out to get us! Turns out...Major League Baseball was out to get us. Not quite a Broken Aesop, not quite a Rule-Abiding Rebel, just another Simpsons plot with no actual point.
- In Justice League Unlimited, Flash villain The Trickster isn't actually a bad sort, but only taking his medication "when he's down" means he's also open to the delusions that make him go out and commit crimes. At the time Flash confronts him, both over the medication and to find out information, he isn't even aware he's in costume until it's pointed out to him. Said scene was an in-joke of sorts to the dramatic difference between the short-lived live action The Flash series, which portrayed Trickster as an insane Joker-rip off and the comic version of Trickster, who is more or less a villainous conman, who by the late 1990s had fallen into Anti-Hero territory as far as aiding the Flash against his former villainous allies. The fact that cartoon Trickster was voiced by Mark Hamill, who played the live action version of Trickster (as well as voicing the Joker in the DCAU) added to the wink-wink to the audience.
- In one episode of King of the Hill, Bobby is (apparently mis-) diagnosed with ADD, and abandoning the medication is seen as good. In another, however, Kahn goes off his manic-depression meds and despite his mania practically being a Disability Superpower, it's soon apparent that he really needed those pills.
- Check out The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat by Oliver Sacks for a few good examples, particularly the chapter on "Witty Ticcy Ray". A Tourette's-syndrome patient, Ray needs medication to function in society, but when he takes it he loses all his coordination and artistic skill -- which is lethal to his hobbies of painting and jazz drumming. Eventually he compromised and took it only during the week. (There was also kind of an inverted example, where after a night of heavy drug use, a man awoke with a greatly heightened sense of smell.)
- Some psychiatrists will only prescribe medication as a last resort if nothing else is having any success or doing its full job because meds, as awesome as they can be for restoring full cognitive function, also have great potential for causing permanent brain damage as well as having other negative side effects, as detailed many times before on this page. Even without the numerous side effects, many people really hate being dependent on pills for control of their own bodies and minds.
- It's actually not uncommon for people with ADHD to forgo medication, instead opting to learn coping skills. The main reason, however, is not the lack of creativity but the lack of energy- some ADHD medications put people into "zombie mode" where they're almost constantly fatigued and lethargic. Even worse is that when kids' grades start slipping again, they're put on higher doses.
- People with Tourette Syndrome also have the problem with their medication, and TS is often co-morbid with ADHD. However, people with TS drop their ADHD medication because it either does nothing or makes the tics worse.
- In regard to some mental illnesses, maintenance psychiatric medication actually can or even should be a secondary option considered after others have failed.
- Some cases of depression, especially mild to moderate depression, and even some major cases. Talk therapy and lifestyle modifications have a better proven track record based on evidence than most SSRIs for mild to moderate depression - the only problem is they require major changes in lifestyle and time to work, so medication may well be better for people who can't or don't wish to work with those or who are too depressed to begin working with either - but SSRIs and especially neuroleptics are not to depression what antibiotics are to infection, and can sometimes worsen depression or lead to suicide. That said, if you're already on medication it's generally best to stay on it - but if you've just been diagnosed depressed, and you're not currently hospitalized, looking into alternative treatment may be worth your time.
- Mild ADD/ADHD especially in very young children and in adults. In this case, the issue is risk of harm versus risk of reward. In very young children, ADD/ADHD can be easily misdiagnosed and one side effect is stunted growth. In adults, the heart disease and stroke risks of taking large doses of amphetamine-based ADD/ADHD medications may or may not be worth the reward of relief of symptoms.
- PTSD and complicated grief are the saddest cases of this. Due to their origin as traumatic life experiences as opposed to being from brain chemistry, they are incredibly difficult conditions to deal with using existing medications - with some sufferers, even self-medication is more effective than existing psychiatric medications (because neither, unless depression is comorbid, have much to do with serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine - the neurotransmitters existing meds work with the most). In fact, some medications may provide a temptation for abuse much as self-medication would, or a quick and available means of suicide. Survivors often do better, if they do, with time, talk therapy, supportive environments, and learning coping strategies to deal with triggers and painful memories. One of the few effective drugs trialed for PTSD to date is a psychedelic used to enhance talk therapy sessions or make environments feel more supportive than they are.