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Mental health disorders are highly prevalent in the U.S. as nearly 1 in 5 American adult struggles with a mental illness in a given year. Untreated mental illnesses can lead to poor physical health, damaged relationships, poor performance at school or work, propensity to abuse substances, and even suicidal thoughts. Therefore, one must strive to reach out for a comprehensive and an ongoing mental health treatment program that directs an individual towards complete mental health recovery.
Even though a mental illness is not cured by a psychiatric medication, it can nevertheless improve the symptoms significantly. When used alongside psychotherapy, medication can help provide better treatment outcomes. However, the medications most suited for an individual depend on one’s condition and how their body responds to that medicine. It is important that an appropriate treatment plan is chosen based on an individual’s need and medical condition, under the supervision of a skilled mental health professional.
However, it is important to understand how different psychiatric medications work. Detailed here are some of the widely prescribed classes of prescription psychiatric medications and how they work to help manage symptoms and mental health disorders.
Antidepressants are medicinal agents frequently used for the treatment of depression. These may also be used for treating other mental disorders like insomnia, pain, and anxiety. Sometimes, antidepressants are also used for off-label indications to manage the symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactive disorder (ADHD).
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most extensively prescribed antidepressants which include fluoxetine, citalopram, sertraline, paroxetine, and escitalopram. Other than this, there is another class of antidepressants known as serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) which are duloxetine and venlafaxine.
One more antidepressant which is commonly prescribed is bupropion. Its mechanism of action differs from SSRIs and SNRIs, and is also used to manage seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and help people quit smoking.
These drugs are well received because in comparison to the conservative classes of antidepressants, these drugs cause relatively fewer side effects and have also been found to be effective for a wide range of anxiety and depressive disorders. The conservative classes of medications include tricyclics, tetracyclics, and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). These medications are still in use as some people benefit hugely from them.
Anti-anxiety medicinal agents help alleviate anxiety symptoms, such as extreme fear, worry, or panic attacks. Benzodiazepines are one of the most commonly prescribed anti-anxiety medicines treating generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). When treating social anxiety disorder or social phobia and panic disorder, SSRIs or other antidepressants are the first line of treatment whereas benzodiazepines are used as the second line of treatment.
Some of the commonly used benzodiazepines for managing anxiety are clonazepam, alprazolam, and lorazepam. Short-acting drugs or drugs with a short half-life like lorazepam and beta-blockers are used for managing short-term anxiety symptoms. The physical manifestations of phobias, like rapid heartbeat, sweating, and trembling, can often be managed by beta-blockers, and intake of these medicines for a short interval of time can help a person keep the physical symptoms under control and lower acute anxiety.
One more drug not related to benzodiazepines but used for long-standing treatment of chronic anxiety is buspirone. It is important to note that unlike benzodiazepines, one has to take buspirone every day for a couple of weeks to gain maximum benefit. Thus, it is not effective as an “when needed” medication.
Stimulants are drugs used for enhancing attention, alertness, energy levels, and at the same time, elevate respiration, heart rate, and blood pressure. These medications are prescribed for treating ADHD in children, adolescents, or adults. Some of the stimulants prescribed for the management of ADHD symptoms include methylphenidate, amphetamine, dextroamphetamine, and lisdexamfetamine dimesylate.
Atomoxetine, used to treat ADHD as well, is a non-stimulant which was approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Clonidine and guanfacine are two additionally approved non-stimulant antihypertensive drugs used for treating ADHD in children and adolescents. Usually, the treatment for ADHD in a young individual commences with the prescription of a non-stimulant medication, however, if the response is unsatisfactory, a stimulant could be prescribed.
Sometimes, stimulants are also used to treat conditions like narcolepsy and depression which are prescribed for treating depression in the chronically ill, aging individuals, or those who do not respond well to other treatments.
Antipsychotics are medicinal agents used for the treatment of psychosis. The term psychosis is used to indicate conditions that distress the mind and in which an individual loses touch with reality, experiences delusions in the form of fixated and false beliefs, or hallucinations in which a person sees or hears things not actually present. Psychosis could also manifest as a physical symptom of substance abuse or a mental illness like bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or a very serious form of depression known as psychotic depression.
Oftentimes, antipsychotics are used in combination with other medicinal agents for treating conditions like dementia, delirium, ADHD, severe depression, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and GAD. These conditions are not cured by antipsychotics, rather, the latter is used to alleviate symptoms and improve the overall quality of life of an individual battling one of these disorders.
Antipsychotics are majorly of two types. First is the conventional or older antipsychotics were referred to as first-generation antipsychotics, neuroleptics, or typical antipsychotics. Examples of these include chlorpromazine, haloperidol, perphenazine, and fluphenazine. Second generation or newer antipsychotics, also known as atypical antipsychotics, include risperidone, olanzapine, quetiapine, ziprasidone, aripiprazole, paliperidone, and lurasidone.
Both atypical and typical antipsychotics are used for treating the symptoms of manic episodes of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. In addition, multiple atypical antipsychotics possess a broad spectrum of action in comparison to conservative medicines, and thus are used for managing bipolar depression and depression which is unresponsive to antidepressants alone.
Mood stabilizers are drugs used predominantly for the treatment of bipolar disorder, mood fluctuations linked with other mental illnesses, and in a few cases to enhance the effect of other medications used for treating depression. Lithium, an FDA-approved drug, is one of the most widely prescribed and effective mood stabilizers used for managing the symptoms of mania and maintaining the treatment of bipolar disorder. It is one of the most widely prescribed medicinal agents for bipolar disorder and has demonstrated a steep decline in suicidal cases among those who take this medicine. It is also used concurrently in major depressive disorder (MDD) as an augmentation agent. Incidentally, lithium is administered for the prevention of cluster headaches and chronic daily headaches.
It is believed that mood stabilizers exert their actions by lowering the uncharacteristic activity in the brain. Sometimes, these are also used to treat schizoaffective disorder, impulse control disorders, a few mental illnesses in children, and depression (along with an antidepressant).
In some cases, anticonvulsants are also used for mood stabilizations. Originally these drugs were developed for the management of seizures, however, their effectiveness was also established for controlling unstable moods. One of the most extensively used anticonvulsants, as a mood stabilizer, is sodium divalproex or valproic acid. People diagnosed with rapid-cycling bipolar disorder or those who have mixed symptoms of depression and mania fair better with valproic acid than lithium. Other anticonvulsants used as mood stabilizers are carbamazepine, lamotrigine, and oxcarbazepine. Read more
Reading about medicines used for the particular disorder for which one is being treated can be really helpful in getting a clear picture about one’s illness, the available drugs for that illness, and what one can really expect during and probably after the course of the treatment.
If you or a loved one is struggling with mental disorders, get in touch with Invictus Health Group. We can connect you with credible residential mental health treatment centers located in Southern California. Our network of facilities offer treatment programs for mental disorders customized to suit each patient’s medical requirements and history. For more information about our network, call our 24/7 helpline 866-548-0190 and speak to a member of our team. You can also chat online to a representative for further assistance.
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