It is important to know the benefits of prescribed medications, as well as their potential side effects, and to talk to your doctor about any concerns that you may have. As you consider your options, it may help to know some basic facts about medication.
Learning about your medication options can help you have a more meaningful conversation with your doctor. You also can be more fully involved in taking care of your health. Medications for mental health conditions fall into the following types:
Antipsychotic medications can help reduce or, in some cases, eliminate hearing unwanted voices or having very fearful thoughts. They can promote thinking clearly, staying focused on reality, and feeling organized and calm. They also can help you sleep better and communicate more effectively. These medications can come in pill form, which are taken daily, or in an injectable form that lasts between 3 and 6 weeks depending on the specific drug.
Possible side effects include: drowsiness, upset stomach, increased appetite and weight gain, blurred vision, constipation, dry mouth, dizziness, low blood pressure, restlessness, weakness, shakes and twitches, and muscle stiffness. Rare side effects include seizures and problems controlling internal body temperature.
Antidepressants help reduce such feelings as sadness or depressed mood and anxiety as well as suicidal thoughts. They do not, however, make people “happy” or change their personalities. The oldest form of antidepressants are called tricyclic antidepressants, but they are not prescribed as often as newer antidepressants like SSRIs or SNRIs because they have more side effects.
Possible side effects include: drowsiness or insomnia, constipation, weight gain, sexual problems, tremors and dry mouth.
For people whose depression is resistant to treatment and do not experience relief from antidepressants alone, esketamine may be taken in addition to antidepressants. Esketamine is derived from the drug ketamine and works on different chemical receptors in the brain than antidepressant pills. It is administered by a doctor as a nasal spray.
Mood stabilizers help reduce or eliminate extremes of high and low moods and related symptoms. They shouldn’t keep you from experiencing the normal ups and downs of life, though. These medications are also used to treat depression that lasts for a long time, that goes away but comes back or that isn’t treated well enough with an antidepressant alone.
Possible side effects include: stomach problems, drowsiness, weight gain, dizziness, shaking, blurred vision, lack of coordination or confusion.
Tranquilizers and sleeping pills can reduce anxiety and insomnia and help you feel more relaxed. Although some of them are used mostly to help with sleep, they all might cause drowsiness. Usually, these medications are used only briefly because longer use can cause dependency.
These medicines are generally safe when used as prescribed and have relatively few serious side effects. As with any medicine, though, some people may have difficulties. You should call your doctor right away if you experience headaches, slurred speech, confusion, dizziness, nausea or increased nervousness or excitability.
Stimulants and related medicines can have a calming effect and help improve concentration and attention span in both children and adults. They also can improve a person’s ability to follow directions and reduce hyperactivity and impulsiveness.
Possible side effects include: trouble falling asleep, decreased appetite and weight loss. Less common side effects can include headaches, stomachaches, irritability, rapid pulse or increased blood pressure. These often go away within a few weeks after ending use or if your health care provider lowers your dose.
When you’re feeling overwhelmed or confused, it’s understandable that you might want to let others make medication decisions for you. But it’s becoming clearer to researchers, providers and mental health consumers themselves that being actively involved in your treatment can make a real difference in your recovery. Talking honestly with your doctor is a big part of that process. If you discuss your concerns and learn about your options, you are much more likely to come up with a plan that works well for you and for the life you want to create.
The following tips can help you decide about taking a medication:
Medications are often prescribed by their brand name. This was the name they were given by the company that first created them. Once these medications are no longer “on patent” other companies may start making them and offering them as generic medications. These go by chemical names. For instance, Zoloft is a brand name antidepressant, and its generic name is sertraline. Brand name drugs and generic drugs must have the same active ingredient, but they may have different inactive ingredients used to make them. Inactive ingredients can be things like coloring agents, preservatives, and fillers. The FDA requires generic drug makers to prove that their products are just as effective as the brand name drug before people are allowed to buy them. Your insurance company will often require that you be given the less expensive, generic version of medication (if one is available) unless your doctor determines that the brand name version is medically necessary.
When a doctor determines that a brand name medication is medically necessary for you or if you are seeking a generic that is identical to the brand but you have trouble affording the higher cost of the brand name medication, a third option may be available. This third option is an authorized generic. An authorized generic medication is a medication made by the original creator of the drug, using the exact same formula (including inactive ingredients) as the original drug. It is manufactured by the maker of the brand name medication and distributed by a special generics division of the drug company. An authorized generic medication will cost the same as a generic medication. But you may have to specially request it from your pharmacy because they may not keep it in stock. Not all medications are available in authorized generic form, but you can check to see if yours is at www.authorizedgenericmedicines.org/product-finder.
Pharmacogenomics is the study of how a person’s genes impact their reaction to drugs. It is a relatively new field that holds promise for developing effective medications and dosages based on a person’s genetic makeup.
When working with a clinician to start medication for a mental health condition, there are a number of factors that play into deciding which medicine is a good fit for you – this includes things like your physical and mental health history, family history, cost, and side effects. Pharmacogenomic testing can be an extra tool in your clinician’s toolbox to help inform medication selection.
Pharmacogenomic testing is conducted by your doctor with a simple cheek swab. By analyzing the genetic variations in your DNA, the test can provide information about genes that may impact how you break down or react to certain medications. This can help your doctor predict which medications will be effective for you.
The cost of testing varies depending on which test is ordered and your health insurance. Not all insurance companies cover it, though some may depending on the reasons for testing – like if you have tried other medications that haven’t worked. If you’re concerned about cost and coverage, contact your insurance provider prior to testing so you can know what to expect.
MHA has a partnership with Walgreens and together we want to help if you have extra questions. Visit their Pharmacy Chat and speak to someone today for extra help.
Some people get relief from their symptoms immediately, others after a few days or weeks; for others it may take even longer. Medications differ widely in how quickly they take effect. After a short time on the medication, it’s important to share with your doctor or therapist how you are doing with the treatment.
Remember to be honest with your provider. Tell him or her about your symptoms. Also make sure to tell the provider about any drugs, alcohol, over-the-counter or prescription medicines and herbal supplements you’ve been taking. That way you’ll get the most appropriate treatment.
If you’re having trouble with a medication, or experiencing unpleasant side effects, don’t suffer in silence. Your doctor or pharmacist will likely have suggestions that can help. You can use a side-effect checklist to keep track and quickly share information with your provider.
Sometimes side effects can be addressed easily. If you have:
There are many reasons people consider stopping their medication. Some people dislike the side effects, feel that there’s stigma about medication or worry about the expense. If these or other concerns are bothering you, know that you are not alone. Still, quitting is a big decision and can seriously affect your health, so think it through carefully.
Some possible steps if you’re thinking about stopping include:
Following some basic guidelines will protect your health while taking medication:
Ask Important Questions
To protect your health, be sure to ask your doctor or pharmacist the following questions: