If you’ve been diagnosed with a mental health condition or think you may be living with one, you’re likely curious about your options for treatment. In most cases, therapy and medication are considered the gold standard for managing mental health conditions.
Medications aren’t one-size-fits-all, but there are some common medications that psychiatrists may prescribe depending on your needs. You should always work with a psychiatrist or another liscensed prescriber to find a medication that’s best for you.
Here, our psychiatrists provide their expert guidance on common types of psychiatric medications, how they work, and what to expect when starting them.
Mental health conditions are health conditions. And just like physical health conditions, they are often treated with medication, lifestyle changes, or both.
Unfortunately, there is still a stigma around psychiatric medications which may cause feelings of shame for people who rely on medication to feel better or even prevent people from seeking treatment in the first place.
Despite the existing stigma, the evidence points towards the overwhelming effectiveness of psychiatric medications when prescribed appropriately and responsibly. A 2012 review found that in general, psychiatric medications were no less effective than other types of medications. Another large meta-analysis found that patients with depression had the best outcomes when treated with both medication and therapy, compared to either treatment method alone.
Medications can be an important part of your treatment plan and while some people use them as a standalone treatment option, others find they work best when paired with therapy.
Bottom line: the best treatment plan is the one you’ll stick to—whether that’s medication, therapy, or both. Work closely with your doctor to find a treatment option that’s right for you.
Psychiatric medications are medications that have an effect on the brain and nervous system and are used to treat mental health conditions. Psychiatric medications are sometimes referred to as psychotropic medications or psychoactive medications. About 16% of adults have taken medication for their mental health in the past 12 months. Medications aren’t the only option for treatment, but they can be incredibly effective in relieving symptoms of mental health conditions and there is no shame in needing them to feel better.
Here are 5 common types of psychiatric medications, according to psychiatrists.
Antidepressants are commonly used to treat depression, but they are also useful for treating other conditions like anxiety disorders and OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder). There are many different types of antidepressants, all of which work in slightly different ways to help reduce your symptoms.
You may be familiar with SSRIs (like Prozac and Zoloft) or SNRIs (like Cymbalta and Effexor). These are the most common types of antidepressants. But there are other types of antidepressants like TCAs (tricyclic antidepressants), MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors), and atypical antidepressants.
In general, antidepressants work by balancing levels of certain neurotransmitters in your brain. Side effects are generally minimal but some common side effects can include weight gain, decreased sex drive, and fatigue. Not all antidepressants share the same side effects and there are precautions your doctor will take to help reduce your risk of side effects.
It can take several weeks to feel the effects of these medications and it may take several months to settle on the right dose of medication. Be sure to work closely with your doctor throughout the process—healing takes time but it’s always worth it.
Mood stabilizers are a type of medication typically used to treat bipolar disorder, but they are sometimes also prescribed as a treatment for seizure disorders. In general, they work by calming parts of the brain that may get ‘overexcited’ in people with bipolar disorder, ultimately preventing severe mood changes.
There are different types of mood stabilizers like lithium, Lamictal, and Depakote. The type of mood stabilizer you’re prescribed will depend on your needs, specific form of bipolar disorder, and medical history.
Some mood stabilizers are used in combination with other types of medications, like antidepressants, while others might be used alone.
Anti-anxiety medications, which include benzodiazepines, are prescribed to treat anxiety disorders such as panic disorder, social anxiety, and generalized anxiety disorder. Benzodiazepines are relatively quick-acting and are typically only recommended for short-term use and for treating more acute instances of anxiety—for example, phobias or panic attacks.
They work by enhancing the effect of GABA, a neurotransmitter that helps your brain calm down during periods of stress. When they are used as prescribed, benzodiazepines can be very effective for treating anxiety, but they can be dangerous if not used appropriately. Benzodiazepines are addictive and your body adjusts to the medication over time, meaning if you are taking them long-term, you will likely require a higher and higher dose to feel the same effects. This can lead to unwanted side effects as well as withdrawal symptoms if they are stopped suddenly.
Because of the side effects and risks associated with benzodiazepines, they are usually not the first medication your doctor will recommend. Antidepressants are usually the first-line treatment for anxiety disorders and other medications such as beta-blockers can also be used to treat acute symptoms associated with phobias or panic attacks.
Some commonly prescribed benzodiazepines include Xanax, Klonopin, Ativan, and Valium.
Antipsychotic medications are used to treat conditions like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, OCD, and anxiety disorders. Antipsychotics can be an important part of treatment, unfortunately, there is a fair amount of stigma around taking antipsychotic medication which may prevent people from seeking or following treatment. Antipsychotics work by changing the way your brain sends and receives chemical messages, ultimately helping to stabilize or improve your mood and reduce symptoms of psychosis—a term used to describe symptoms that involve a disconnect from reality. Most people immediately think of hallucinations or delusions but psychosis can also involve disorganized thoughts or trouble expressing appropriate emotions. Being treated with antipsychotic medication doesn’t necessarily mean you have psychosis. Antipsychotic medications are often used to treat symptoms of other conditions like OCD, or depression since they can help improve your mood.
Some commonly prescribed antipsychotics include Abilify, Seroquel, and Risperdal.
Stimulants are a group of medications typically prescribed to treat symptoms of ADHD and include amphetamines and methylphenidate. Both amphetamines and methylphenidate work similarly—by increasing the activity of two neurotransmitters, dopamine and norepinephrine, which control levels of energy, motivation, and focus and play a role in ADHD. While stimulants can be effective for treating ADHD and other medical conditions, they can also be addictive and have dangerous side effects when they are not taken as prescribed. There is no shame in needing medications, including stimulants, to treat a mental health condition. If you are prescribed stimulants, it’s important to understand the risks and benefits of taking them and take them only as directed by your doctor.
Finding the right medication for your needs is a process that can take time, but it can also greatly improve your quality of life. The first step to choosing the right medication is to schedule an appointment with a healthcare provider. Primary care doctors, psychiatric nurse practitioners, and psychiatrists are all trained in prescribing medications to treat mental health conditions but psychiatrists are the most specialized and have extensive knowledge in medication management.
The medication you are prescribed will depend on your symptoms, health history, family history and how you respond to specific medications. Everyone responds differently to medications so what works for someone else may not work for you. You may end up trying several medications at varying doses before finding the right one, or you might find that the first medication you try ends up working for you. Trust the process and always ask questions and express any doubts with your psychiatrist or prescribing doctor. Care should always be a conversation.
Like medications used to treat physical health conditions, psychiatric medications also come with a risk of side effects, some rare and more serious, others common and milder. Each medication will have different side effects and your doctor will go through them with you before prescribing you medication. Your doctor will also work with you to reduce your risk of side effects. The thought of side effects can be scary or anxiety-provoking, but your doctor is there to guide you through the process They will likely start you on a very low dose of medication and slowly increase the dose over time until the desired effect is reached. The benefits of taking medications should always outweigh the risks.
Starting medication can take some getting used to. If you’re struggling to remember to take your medication or are feeling nervous about taking it, be sure to chat with your doctor—medications won’t work if they are sitting in your medicine cabinet. It’s important to take your medication as directed and never stop taking it abruptly without consulting your doctor. This can lead to dangerous side effects and sometimes withdrawal symptoms. Medication, when used appropriately, can be an important part of your treatment plan and can help you get back to feeling like yourself.
Talkiatry is a virtual psychiatry practice that takes insurance and makes accessing quality care easy. We have over 300 psychiatrists and are in-network with over 60 major insurers. If you’re struggling with your mental health, our psychiatrists are here for you. They’ll work with you to create a personalized treatment plan which may include medication, a recommendation for therapy, or both. Take our 10-minute free online assessment to see if Talkiatry is the right fit for you.
The most common types of psychiatric medications include antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, antipsychotics, mood stabilizers, and stimulants. If you’re struggling with your mental health there is no shame in needing medication to feel better. When prescribed and taken appropriately, medications can be an important and effective part of treatment for a variety of mental health conditions. If have a mental health condition or think you might, our psychiatrists are here for you. Take our free 10-minute online assessment to see if Talkiatry is right for you.
Talkiatry is a national psychiatry practice that provides in-network, virtual care. Co-founded by a patient and a triple-board-certified psychiatrist, Talkiatry has over 300 doctors, 60 insurance partners, and first visits available in days. We treat patients with anxiety disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, ADHD, and more. Get started with a short online assessment.
The information in this article is for informational and educational purposes only and should never be substituted for medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment. If you or someone you know may be in danger, call 911 or the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 right away.
Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews | The Pharmacology of Amphetamine and Methylphenidate: Relevance to the Neurobiology of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and Other Psychiatric Comorbidities
Dr. Austin Lin is a double board-certified adult and addiction psychiatrist who has been in practice for over 9 years. At the center of Dr. Lin’s clinical approach is a strong emphasis on establishing trust and using a collaborative approach to help patients develop an individualized and cohesive plan so that they are able to achieve their goals.
Dr. Lin's practice focuses on medication management. Typically, he offers this in conjunction with supportive therapy, motivational interviewing, and/or cognitive behavioral therapy in 30-minute follow-up visits. Occasionally, Dr. Lin may recommend that additional therapy is needed and ask that you bring a therapist into your care team in order to provide the best outcome.
Dr. Lin received his medical degree from St. George’s University School of Medicine. He went on to complete his residency in psychiatry at Harvard South Shore, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School, where he served as Chief Resident and earned his 360° Professionalism award. He then had additional training in Addiction Psychiatry through his fellowship at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. After completing training, Dr. Lin has worked as an Addiction Psychiatrist and Director of Adult Services in the Trauma and Resilience Center (TRC) at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth). He specialized in treating patients with a history of depression, anxiety, trauma, and substance use disorders.
Dr. Lin has held an academic appointment at UTHealth, and he has spent his professional career supervising and teaching medical students and psychiatry residents.