Anyone can develop a mental health issue — you, a family member, a friend, or a co-worker. Some mental disorders are mild; others are serious and longer-lasting, but all of them can be diagnosed and effectively treated. Most people go back to living their “normal” lives after treatment. And psychiatric medications are often an important element in the successful treatment of mental disorders.

Medications for mental illnesses were first introduced in the early 1950s with the antipsychotic chlorpromazine. Dozens of other medications have since followed. Medications generally change the lives of people with mental health concerns for the better.

Despite their name, psychiatric medications are most often prescribed by your primary care physician. However, the best and most effective treatment for a mental health concern is from a mental health professional — a psychiatrist, psychologist, clinical social worker or psychotherapist. While only a psychiatrist can prescribe medications in most states, medications are just one arm of effective treatment. Most mental health concerns are best treated not only with medication, but also with psychotherapy at the same time.

Psychiatric medications also may make other kinds of treatment more effective. Someone who is too depressed to talk, for instance, may have difficulty communicating during psychotherapy or counseling. The right medication may improve their symptoms so the person can respond. For many patients, a combination of psychotherapy and medication is usually the proven, most effective method of treatment.

Medications also have helped us better understand how mental illness impacts our brains and bodies. Researchers have learned much more about the workings of the brain as a result of their investigations into how medications relieve the symptoms of disorders such as psychosis, depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, attention deficit disorder and panic disorder.