The idea of going onto medication can be a daunting one for many people for a variety of reasons. It is important to keep in mind that medications will only be prescribed if they are deemed necessary and your doctor will keep you informed and will take on board any comments or concerns you may have. Whilst you may not want to go on medication, in many cases medication will be required to help alleviate or cure your symptoms. In tandem with taking medication we would recommend you consider pursuing psychotherapeutic treatments. In some cases medication will be required to get your symptoms under control before being able to pursue talking therapies so you would be advised to listen to your medical professional’s advice in this situation. In other cases talking therapies will be trialled before a medication is prescribed. Many people have a problem with medication as they feel that once you are on it you will never be able to come off of it. Whilst there are a limited number of treatments that do require lifelong adherence to medication, most treatments are not like this and you will be able to function again without the use of medication. Different medications do have different lead in times for effects to be felt and so you may have to take your medication for a number of weeks before you are able to feel the effects. This may make you feel like you no longer wish to take your prescription. However, we would advise you to stick with your medication regime for as long as your medical professional has advised, or to at least discuss your concerns with them. If you are still not feeling improvements after a certain period your doctor may decide to increase your dosage gradually or to change your medication. It is important that you do not decide to take yourself off of prescribed medication without consulting your doctor because, without a gradual decrease in dosage, many medications can cause unpleasant side effects if they are simply stopped.
The side effects of medication can also be a concern for people considering them. Side effects will differ depending on the person. However, in many cases a person will be able to tolerate minor side effects or other medications will be prescribed to help make side effects tolerable. If you feel you are unable to tolerate the side effects please discuss a potential move to another medication with your doctor. Common side effects can include impacts on mood, nausea, impacts on libido, weight gain, sleep disruption, reduced concentration and in some cases increased suicidal tendencies. This is why a doctor will evaluate your profile before prescribing you any medication and monitor you closely when a new medication is started. It is important to only take medications that have been prescribed to you.
Medications used to treat mental health disorders can be broken down into four main categories; antidepressants, antipsychotics, mood stabilisers and sleeping pills/mild tranquilisers. The specific medication you are prescribed will depend largely on your disorder, the disorder severity and your reaction to and tolerance of various side effects. Below we have discussed the general areas that each of these categories of medication are used to treat. This is not an exhaustive list and sometimes medications can be used outside of their usual remit and can still have success. It is hoped that by briefly mentioning these details below you will be able to go to a meeting with your doctor to discuss your options with a basic idea of what to expect to discuss, instead of being confronted with unfamiliar medical terms.
Whilst you may presume that antidepressants are only used for depression due to the category name, this is not actually the case. You may be prescribed antidepressants for a number of anxiety disorders and eating disorders, as well as for depression. One of the most commonly used categories of medication used in the antidepressant field are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s). SSRI’s are drugs that target specific brain activities to help improve your symptoms.
Antipsychotics are used for disorders including psychosis, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and some extreme cases of anxiety disorder. Most antipsychotic drugs work on the dopamine system of the brain in order to change behaviours. One of the potential side effects of some of the older antipsychotic drugs was a movement problem reminiscent of Parkinson’s disease. If this does occur then it is possible to have these side effects treated with Parkinson’s medication. However, it is advised that you attempt a new antipsychotic with fewer side effects before being treated with Parkinson’s medication as this itself can have some detrimental side effects.
Mood stabilisers are used in the treatment of disorders including bipolar disorder, mania and can also be used to treat severe recurrent depression. Whilst these drugs are all classed as mood stabilisers, their make ups do differ significantly. They can be broken down into anticonvulsants, antipsychotics and lithium. Whilst one of the drugs associated with this category, asenapine, is an antipsychotic it is often believed to fit better into the mood stabiliser category. Lithium is a prominent drug to help treat the symptoms of bipolar disorder and is highly successful in many cases, but you will require a battery of tests before being prescribed lithium and it will likely require closer monitoring than other drugs. There is also a range of side effects that will need to be discussed closely before committing to treatment with lithium.
Sleeping pills and mild tranquilisers
Sleeping pills and mild tranquilisers are generally used to help control the symptoms of anxiety and sleeping problems. They do not address the underlying causes of the problems and so do not act as a cure but they can help to manage symptoms. This can be useful in helping you to begin a course of therapy. These drugs are sedatives and so they slow down your body’s functioning and affect your ability to react. Therefore you should not drive or operate heavy machinery when using this medication. Benzodiazepines are a category of drug that act as a mild tranquiliser and that is often prescribed for short periods of time. You should avoid these drugs for long term treatment, or if you have a history of substance abuse, as they are associated with a high degree of dependency.
As you can see, there are many medications available for the treatment of mental health problems and advancements are constantly being made. Whilst you may feel apprehensive to start a course of medication we hope you will now have a better idea of what to expect when it comes to treatments. It is normal to have questions and concerns being committing to a new medical treatment, be it medication or therapy, and it is important to remember that nobody will judge you for this. Nor will your doctor mind you asking questions before starting a course of medication. What is important is to consider all of your options and to work with your doctor to find the most suitable course of of treatment for you to get you back on the road to recovery as soon as possible.