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Psychiatric medications treat mental disorders like anxiety, depression, bipolar, or schizophrenia. With the help of medication, people with mental illness are able to avoid symptoms that interfere with daily life. Medications treat the symptoms of mental illness but are not a cure.
Medications do more than help people feel better. They also prevent symptoms from coming back and reduce the chances of having to go the hospital. Some people may need to take these medications for their whole lives. Most medications can be taken safely for long periods of time.
Be honest and open when discussing concerns with your doctor. Choosing the right medication and dose should be based on each individual’s needs. Your doctor will choose a medication based on:
Side effects are unwanted reactions to a medication. These are unique to each medication and can change depending on how long you take a medication. Not everyone will experience side effects to medications and some individuals may experience different side effects that are not as common.
Some side effects can be mild and temporary. For example, stomach upset is common when starting antidepressants, like citalopram. This is usually limited to the first few days and disappears with continued treatment. If side effects are likely to disappear or improve, the medication can be safely continued.
Some health conditions can make individuals more likely to experience side effects with certain medications. In these situations, the doctor may avoid a specific medication all together. For example, haloperidol should not be used for people with Parkinson’s disease because it can make movement symptoms worse.
Example: If you are taking fluoxetine and aripiprazole, the fluoxetine may increase the level and effects of aripiprazole in your body. This may lead to unwanted side effects like severe restlessness. In this situation, the doctor may prefer a different antidepressant over fluoxetine.
Example: If you have symptoms of anxiety disorder, your doctor may consider what medications have worked for other family members treated for anxiety. For instance, if your mother did well on escitalopram, this medication would be a good option to start for you.
Example: Lithium can be used to treat bipolar disorder. If a person has kidney problems, the dose of lithium will likely need to be changed. In some cases, the person may need to be switched to a new medication.
Example: An example goal is to stop having panic attacks. The doctor may pick a medication that helps keep panic attacks from happening, like sertraline. The doctor may not pick a medication that only stops panic attacks after they already start, like alprazolam.
©2021 The College of Psychiatric and Neurologic Pharmacists (CPNP). Megan Vaden, PharmD, February 2019
This information is being provided as a community outreach effort of the College of Psychiatric and Neurologic Pharmacists. This information is for educational and informational purposes only and is not medical advice. This information contains a summary of important points and is not an exhaustive review of information about the topic. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified medical professional with any questions you may have regarding medications or medical conditions. Never delay seeking professional medical advice or disregard medical professional advice as a result of any information provided herein. The College of Psychiatric and Neurologic Pharmacists disclaims any and all liability alleged as a result of the information provided herein. CPNP makes this document available under the Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivatives 4.0 International License. Last Updated: January 2016.
To view the references for this resource, please visit cpnp.org/390125.
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