Psychiatric medications are prescribed by psychiatrists and other physicians to help patients manage symptoms associated with mood, behavior and thoughts. They are also prescribed for serious mental health conditions including ADHD, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. Many times, these medications are prescribed in combination with psychological therapy or counseling.
According to the latest statistics, roughly 47 million Americans report experiencing some type of mental or emotional issue at some point in their life. Another 11 million are diagnosed with a serious mental illness, which represents 1 out of every 5 adult Americans.
The most commonly prescribed psychiatric medications in the United States are antidepressants, anxiolytics (anti-anxiety), psychostimulants, mood stabilizers and antipsychotics. These medications are prescribed to treat various forms of depression, anxiety disorders, ADHD (Attention Deficit Hypertension Disorder) and ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder without Hyperactivity), bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders.
These medications work by interacting with and altering brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. A class of antidepressant, called Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) work by increasing serotonin in the brain which diminishes feelings of depression and enhances mood. Another class, Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors work by increasing dopamine and norepinephrine which produces improvement in mood and cognition.
When an individual takes an anti-anxiety medication, it interacts with GABA (a neurotransmitter that keeps the brain from over-reacting and produces a calming effect). The result is less stress, and increased sense of relaxation and serenity. People who take antipsychotics may improve their symptoms as the medications interact with dopamine and glutamate, two important neurotransmitters.
While these drugs work for many people, they all come with potentially serious side-effects. In general, they can cause dizziness, drowsiness, nausea and vomiting, sleep and appetite issues, and weight gain. Antipsychotic medications, on the other hand, can cause more serious complications including diabetes, stroke and other heart problems, increased cholesterol and movement disorders. These side-effects are sometimes the reason why people stop taking their medication. They simply don’t like how they feel while taking them.
Millions of Americans struggle with emotional and mental issues and many will turn to medications. Being prescribed the “right” medication and the “correct” dose usually takes time and patience. The good news is that when they work, they truly improve difficult symptoms and improve quality of living. The not so good news is that most drugs come with side-effects that must be closely and carefully monitored. Like everything in life, if something is important enough, it must be taken seriously and given much attention.