Medications have the ability to significantly improve the lives of people who have certain conditions. But the benefits of some medications may be accompanied by side effects and other drawbacks. Your ability to evaluate the pros and cons of medication for mental illness can prepare you to make the most informed decisions for yourself or on behalf of a loved one.
Which Mental Illnesses Can Be Treated With Medication?
When evaluating the pros and cons of medication for mental illness, it is important to define exactly which types of medications you are considering. For example, some people try to treat mild depressive symptoms with over-the-counter (OTC) products such as St. John’s Wort, Omega-3 fatty acids, and various other supplements and vitamins.
This page is focused on prescription medications. When used as directed, certain prescription medications have proved to be extremely effective a minimizing or eradicating symptoms of many mental health disorders. As is the case with virtually all medications, though, their use can sometimes cause negative effects. Today, we will be looking at the pros and cons of prescription medication for mental illnesses such as the following:
- Anxiety disorders
- Bipolar disorder
- Depressive disorders
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
In some cases, prescription medications are used solely on a short-term basis to help people achieve stabilization. In other circumstances, people who have mental illnesses may take mental health medication for extended periods of time, or even for the rest of their lives.
How Do Medications for Mental Illnesses Work?
The functioning of medications for mental illnesses can vary considerably among the different types of drugs that have been developed to treat different types of disorders. Many people take medication for depression. But there is considerable variety in terms of the types of medication they take and in the ways these medications interact with the body. Here are a few examples:
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs): This category includes medications such as Paxil, Zoloft, and Lexapro. These medications affect how the central nervous system processes serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that is associated with mood, sleep, sexual desire, and other functions. Once the nervous system produces serotonin, SSRIs prevent nerve cells from absorbing the neurotransmitter as it passes from cell to cell. This allows more serotonin to remain in the body for a longer period of time.
- Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs): Effexor, Cymbalta, and other SNRIs function somewhat the same as SSRIs do. But, in addition to affecting how the body processes serotonin, SNRIs also impact a neurotransmitter called norepinephrine. This neurotransmitter influences the body’s response to threats or dangers. Also, norepinephrine is produced from dopamine, a hormone that is linked to motivation and pleasure.
- Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs): Introduced in the 1950s, TCAs were some of the earliest antidepressants. Today, TCAs may also be used to treat several other mental illnesses, including bipolar disorder, panic disorder, and PTSD. TCAs attempt to reestablish a proper balance of brain chemicals by interacting with multiple neurotransmitter pathways in the central nervous system.
For people who have schizophrenia, antipsychotic medications can be an essential element of treatment. These medications can reduce or eliminate hallucinations, delusions, and other potentially debilitating symptoms of schizophrenia.
Antipsychotic medications work by interacting with receptors that are associated with certain neurotransmitters. First-generation, or typical, antipsychotics block dopamine receptors. Second-generation, or atypical, antipsychotics block both serotonin and dopamine receptors.
Pros of Medication for Mental Illness
The “pro” side of the pros and cons of medication for mental illness is that people who take them can experience relief from symptoms that have been sources of considerable distress.
For people who have been living with anxiety or depression, medication can improve their ability to function in school, at work, and in social situations. Beneficial effects of these medications include elevated mood, increased energy levels, and diminished fear or worry.
For those who have bipolar disorder, medications may help stabilize their mood or alleviate symptoms of depressive episodes. Among people who have been living with disorders such as schizophrenia, medication can enhance their ability to perceive their environment and communicate with others. Medications that can free a person from hallucinations, delusions, and disordered thinking can have a dramatic effect on both the substance and quality of their life.
Cons of Medication for Mental Illness
On the “con” side, there are some potential drawbacks to some prescription medications for mental illness. For example:
- Some medications have harsh side effects. In some cases, people may feel that the negative impact of the side effects outweighs the benefits that the medication provides.
- It can take time for some mental health medications to take effect. When a person is in crisis, it can be difficult for them to manage their symptoms until the medication begins to work.
- In some situations, it takes a while to determine which medication works best and which dosage level is ideal. This means a person may have to try several medications in various amounts and combinations until they identify what works for them.
- Medications often need to be taken at specific times in specific doses. People who have severe symptoms may sometimes forget or refuse to take their medication.
Some people are hesitant to take medication for mental illness because they fear the side effects or they are afraid the medications will change who they are. If you have any concerns about any medications that have been provided to your or a loved one, please speak with the professional who wrote the prescription. Don’t let misunderstandings or temporary challenges prevent you from the many potential benefits of prescription medication for mental illness.
Begin Treatment for Mental Illness in Atlanta, GA
Peachtree Wellness Solutions offers comprehensive treatment programs for adults whose lives have been disrupted by mental illness. Our treatment center in Atlanta, Georgia, offers customized services at multiple levels of care. Our personalized treatment plans may include medication, several evidence-based therapies, and an array of adjunct services. Give us a call or visit our admissions page today to learn how we can help.