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Medication for Mental Health: Top Tips You Need to Know

4 min read

As much as seeking services for mental health issues is stigmatized and shamed, taking medication for assistance is often met with hesitation. When a primary care doctor prescribes medication for a physical medical issue, many people will take it without question. Yet, when it comes to taking medications for mental health-related issues, there seems to be a negative outlook on the idea.

The most common questions I have been asked are: “How is it going to help? Does it even work? Do I have to? What if my parents/family are against it?” To help put those considering or currently taking medication at ease, I have provided some tips below on the general types of mental health medications, how to deal with side effects, what to do if you are thinking of stopping your medication, what questions to ask your mental health professional, and how to find a psychiatrist in your area.

“I was worried that they wouldn’t work. I was discouraged when one medication didn’t work and so I didn’t try another one until a year later.” – Anonymous, 30

When addressing a need for a psychiatric evaluation, psychologist Dr. Swati Sharma approaches clients by introducing the topic first.

Dr. Sharma starts off with, “Have you considered a psychiatric evaluation?”

She noted that it does not mean that they will be on medication, but it would be helpful to seek medical consultation to further assist with treatment.

Mental health medications tend to be more effective when combined with therapy. Generally, medicine can reduce symptoms. However, it is important to remember that a medication that works for one person may not work for another. It may take you longer to find the one that works best for you. Therefore, it is very important to be aware of potential side effects. When the ideal dose is obtained, an antidepressant may take 4–12 weeks to achieve the maximum benefit. It may be possible for one or two symptoms to improve in the first few weeks. For more information related to treatment visit The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

[Read Related: Finding Hope and Comfort: 10 Books to Help You Realize That You’re Doing Alright]

When providing psychoeducation about medication to my patients, I tend to share that some medications may be taken for a short amount of time, some for longer, while other patents may have to take them for life. It is understandable that there is hesitation surrounding taking medication. Psychiatrist Dr. Bikram Sharma believes in medication management in conjunction with therapy.

Dr. Bikram Sharma reported, “I will suggest therapy first and if they are not improving, then I would have an open and honest conversation about medications to address the root of their hesitancy.”

General Types of Medications

  • Antipsychotic:
    • Antipsychotic medicines are primarily used to manage psychosis, such as schizophrenia.
  • Antidepressants:
    • Most commonly used to treat depression
  • Antianxiety medications:
    • These medications are used to treat a variety of chronic and acute anxiety issues, from generalized anxiety to panic attacks.
  • Mood stabilizers:
    • Mood stabilizers are used primarily to treat bipolar disorder, mood swings associated with other mental disorders, and in some cases, to augment the effect of other medication.
    • Typically they are used to treat intense, repeated shifts in a person’s mood, which may be common for those experiencing bipolar, schizophrenia, or borderline personality.
  • Stimulants and related medicines:
    • Stimulant medications are often prescribed to treat children, adolescents, or adults diagnosed with ADHD.

[Read Related: 5 Ways to Physically Take Care of Your Stress and Mental Health]

Dealing with Side Effects

If you’re having trouble with a medication or experiencing unpleasant side effects, don’t suffer in silence. The most important thing you can do is speak up and share your concerns with your provider. Read the packet provided with your medication at the pharmacy. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. You should know what you are taking and how the possible side effects can affect you.

“When antidepressants are started or doses are increased, some patients, especially children, adolescents and young adults, may experience increased anxiety, agitation, restlessness, irritability or anger, which may lead to suicidal thoughts or attempts. These should be outlined by the doctor before the treatment begins.” – AFSP

If You Are Thinking About Stopping Your Medication…

First of all, don’t stop your medication immediately! Talk to your provider before taking any action. Be prepared to discuss why you want to stop your medication. Together, you can develop an appropriate and safe plan to discontinue or adjust your medication. One approach can be to reduce the dosage slowly and taper off.

One factor impacting people stopping their medications is that they temporarily feel better, but this can lead to the return of symptoms. That is a big no-no! Before you stop, have a conversation with your provider!

If your current medication is not working, remind yourself that it is fairly common for people to try a few different medications before finding the one that works best. Don’t give up if one medication doesn’t work.

When combined with any mental disorders, alcohol and drug abuse can increase suicide risk. When being treated, be honest about your alcohol or drug intake for the safest treatment and the best chance of getting better.

Questions to Ask Your Primary Care Doctor or Psychiatrist:

  1. What is my diagnosis (if you are not aware)?
  2. What is the name of the medication? Is it a “brand name” or generic?
  3. When will the medication begin to work/how soon will I see results?
  4. Should I take the medication with food?
  5. What are common side effects that occur with this medication?
  6. Do I need to get anything done prior to taking this medication or while I’m taking it?
  7. Are there any medications, foods, or supplements that I should avoid while on this medication?
  8. How long will I be taking this medication? If I stop taking it, what are the chances of my symptoms returning?
  9. Will my symptoms worsen once I stop? What should I do if I want to stop?
  10. What should I do if I miss a dose?
  11. Can I have beer, wine, or other alcoholic drinks while taking this medication?

[Read Related: Get the Self-Care You Need: 11 Podcasts to Improve Your Mental Well-Being]

How to Find a Psychiatrist in Your Area

  1. Go to your primary care doctor and ask for a referral (this can depend on your insurance coverage).
  2. You can also go to Psychology Today and find a psychiatrist that accepts your insurance!
    • Click “find a therapist”
    • Change to “psychiatrist”
    • Enter your city/zip code

I hope these tips are helpful for those considering or currently taking medication for mental health concerns. Please share with us any additional tips you practice!