Introduction to Mental Health Medications
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 illness 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. But like all medications, drugs prescribed for mental illness often are accompanied by a range of side effects, that vary from person to person, and from drug to drug.
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.
Side effects of medications can be serious enough that many people stop taking their medication because of its side effects. That’s problematic, since most people also don’t tell their doctor or psychiatrist that they are no longer going to take the medication, usually out of embarrassment for not “following doctor’s orders.” Some psychiatric medications can also be very, very difficult to stop after taking for a year or more. These medications need to be slowly and carefully tapered off, usually over a period of weeks or even months. No changes should ever be made in your medication regimen without first speaking to your psychiatrist or prescribing physician.
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.
Tell your doctor if you’re taking any vitamins or other nutritional supplements. Some psychiatric medications can interact with certain supplements in such as a way as to cause additional health problems or reduce the effectiveness of the medication. Your doctor has no way of knowing what supplements you’re taking, or other medications you may be taking if they were prescribed by another physician. This includes letting your doctor know if you’re regularly taking marijuana, as well as your weekly alcohol intake.
Psychiatric medications, when properly prescribed and taken as directed, can be extremely helpful in alleviating the symptoms of many types of mental illness. You should consider taking a medication if it’s indicated for your condition.