medicine Mental health problems are largely medical, meaning that many illnesses are diseases/disorders that have effective medications to help with symptoms and lead to recovery.

Medication affects everyone differently, so what may work for one person may not work for someone else. Whether or not medication is a good route to take for you personally should be discussed with your doctor or psychiatrist.

Before taking any medications for mental health problems, be sure to discuss potential side effects and warning signs with your family doctor or psychiatrist and/or pharmacist and be sure to read the insert information provided to you.

Never stop taking your medication without the supervision of your doctor or psychiatrist. Quitting medications abruptly could cause an extreme spike in symptoms, which could lead to crisis.

The American Mental Wellness Association does not specifically endorse or recommend any specific medication. We strongly advise that all medication be discussed thoroughly with your doctor or psychiatrist.

Before taking a new medication:

  • Read the paperwork that comes with the prescription and/or over the counter medication.
  • Make sure you fully understand the medication being prescribed to you, how it works, and potential side effects.
  • Tell your doctor about all current prescribed and over the counter medications (including eyedrops), vitamins, or herbal supplements you are currently taking.
  • If you have any allergies, discuss these with your doctor.
  • Call your doctor immediately if you experience any problems with your medication, or if you are experiencing severe side effects. Report any serious side effects to your doctor right away.


Antidepressants are a commonly prescribed medication that works to correct a chemical imbalance in the brain. Antidepressants are usually prescribed to treat depression, but are sometimes used to treat anxiety or sleep disorders.

There are several different types of antidepressants. The most popular types of antidepressants are called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs. Another type is called serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, or SNRIs, and a third common type is called Bupropion, which is often used to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder and smoking cessation.

SSRIs, SNRIs, and Bupropion are popular choices because they have less side effects as older antidepressant options such as tricyclics, tetracyclics, and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). Again, it is important to remember that different medications work differently to each individual person. While SSRIs or SNRIs are the most popular, some people respond best to MAOIs. The best way to find out what works best for you is to talk with your doctor.

What are some side effects for antidepressants?

The most common side effects noted by the FDA are:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Weight gain
  • Diarrhea
  • Sleepiness
  • Sexual problems

Call your doctor right away if you have any of the following symptoms, especially if they are new, worsening, or worry you (U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 2011):

  • Thoughts about suicide or dying
  • Attempts to commit suicide
  • New or worsening depression
  • New or worsening anxiety
  • Feeling very agitated or restless
  • Panic attacks
  • Trouble sleeping (insomnia)
  • New or worsening irritability
  • Acting aggressively, being angry, or violent
  • Acting on dangerous impulses
  • An extreme increase in activity and talking (mania)
  • Other unusual changes in behavior or mood

Anti-Anxiety Medications

The most common type of anti-anxiety medications are called benzodiazepines, which typically treat generalized anxiety disorder. In addition to benzodiazepines, individuals with anxiety disorders (especially panic attacks or social phobia) are often prescribed SSRIs or other antidepressant medications.

Some anti-anxiety medications are called beta-blockers, which help to reduce the immediate physical symptoms of anxiety such as rapid heartbeat, sweating, and trembling. They are useful on an as-needed basis. On the other hand, Buspirone is a longer acting medication that takes several weeks to build up in your system.

What are some side effects for anti-anxiety medications?

The most common side effects for benzodiazepines are drowsiness and dizziness. Other possible side effects include:

  • Nausea
  • Blurred vision
  • Headache
  • Confusion
  • Tiredness
  • Nightmares

Tell your doctor if any of these symptoms are severe or do not go away:

  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Unsteadiness
  • Problems with coordination
  • Difficulty thinking or remembering
  • Increased saliva
  • Muscle or joint pain
  • Frequent urination
  • Blurred vision
  • Changes in sex drive or ability (The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, Inc, 2010)

If you experience any of the symptoms below, call your doctor immediately:

  • Rash
  • Hives
  • Swelling of the eyes, face, lips, tongue, or throat
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • Hoarseness
  • Seizures
  • Yellowing of the skin or eyes
  • Depression
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Yellowing of the skin or eyes
  • Thoughts of suicide or harming yourself
  • Difficulty breathing

Common side effects of beta-blockers include:

  • Fatigue
  • Cold hands
  • Dizziness or light-headedness
  • Weakness

Beta-blockers generally are not recommended for people with asthma or diabetes because they may worsen symptoms related to both.

Possible side effects from buspirone include:

  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Nervousness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Excitement
  • Trouble sleeping


Stimulants are a type of medication that increases energy, alertness, and attention. Stimulants are most often prescribed to treat ADHD.

Stimulants are also prescribed to treat other problems aside from ADHD, such as narcolepsy and occasionally depression.

  • Motor tics or verbal tics (sudden, repetitive movements or sounds)
  • Personality changes, such as appearing “flat” or without emotion

What are some side effects of stimulants?

Most side effects are minor and disappear when dosage levels are lowered. The most common side effects include:

  • Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Loss of appetite
  • Stomach pain
  • Headache

Less common side effects include:

  • Motor tics or verbal tics (sudden, repetitive movements or sounds)
  • Personality changes, such as appearing “flat” or without emotion

Antipsychotic Medications

The word “psychosis” is used to describe symptoms that affect the mind, typically those related to perception, thoughts, and connections to reality. Common symptoms of psychosis include delusions (false, paranoid beliefs) and hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that are not really there). Psychosis can be brought on by mental health problems such as schizophrenia or bipolar, but it can also be a side effect to drug abuse.

Antipsychotic medications work to relieve the symptoms of psychosis. They are often used jointly with other medications to treat several different types of mental health problems, such as severe depression, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and generalized anxiety disorder, to name a few.

Older antipsychotic medications are called typical antipsychotics or neuroleptics. Newer generation medications are called atypical antipsychotics. Generally, atypical antipsychotics treat a broader range of problems – but again, each person is different and will respond to medication differently.

Examples of SSRIs:

Examples of SNRIs:

Examples of Tricyclics

Examples of Tetracyclics

Examples of MAOIs

Examples of Benzodiazepines

Examples of Stimulants

Examples of typical/neuroleptic antipsychotics

Examples of atypical antipsychotics

Examples of mood stabilizers and anticonvulsants

Common Medication Myths

MYTH: Psychiatric medications are an artificial source of happiness and you won’t deal with your problems.

TRUTH: Medications are not”happy pills” – rather, they help to lessen the symptoms of an illness. This will actually make it easier to face your problems with a level head.

MYTH: Psychiatric medications change your personality or turn you into an emotional zombie.

TRUTH: When taken correctly, medication will not change your personality or zap all of your feelings. They are designed to make you feel like yourself again. If your personality is changing or you’re having trouble feeling anything, speak with your doctor right away.

MYTH: Psychiatric medications will make me gain weight.

TRUTH: Reactions to medications varies by person. Some medications may actually cause you to lose weight. Be sure to talk to your doctor about this if it is a concern for you.

MYTH: You have to take psychiatric medications for the rest of your life.

TRUTH: The length of medicine will depend on the problem and the type of medication being used. For example, most people only need to take antidepressants for 6 – 9 months until depression is under control.

More Information

More information on mental health prescription medications can be found at the following links:


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What are some side effects of antipsychotic medications?

Antipsychotics have many side effects (or adverse events) and risks. The FDA lists the following side effects of antipsychotic medicines:

  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Restlessness
  • Weight gain (the risk is higher with some atypical antipsychotic medicines)
  • Dry mouth
  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Blurred vision
  • Low blood pressure
  • Uncontrollable movements, such as tics and tremors (the risk is higher with typical antipsychotic medicines)
  • Seizures
  • A low number of white blood cells, which fight infections

A person taking an atypical antipsychotic medication should have his or her weight, glucose levels, and lipid levels monitored regularly by a doctor.

Typical antipsychotic medications can also cause additional side effects related to physical movement, such as:

  • Rigidity
  • Persistent muscle spasms
  • Tremors
  • Restlessness

Mood Stabilizers

Mood stabilizers are most commonly used to treat bipolar disorder, although they can also be used in conjunction with other medications for more severe cases of mood disorders such as severe depression, impulse control disorders, and schizoaffective disorder. Lithium is the most common mood stabilizer used today.

Anticonvulsants are also used as mood stabilizers. Originally created to treat seizures, researchers found that anticonvulsants work well as mood regulators as well. A commonly used anticonvulsant is called valproic acid, which works particularly well for individuals with “mixed” bipolar symptoms, oftentimes working better than Lithium. Other anticonvulsants used as mood stabilizers are Carbamazepine, Lamotrigine, Lamictal, and Oxcarbazepine.

What are some side effects for mood stabilizers?

Mood stabilizers can cause several side effects, and some of them may become serious, especially at excessively high blood levels. These side effects include:

  • Itching, rash
  • Excessive thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Tremor (shakiness) of the hands
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Slurred speech
  • Fast, slow, irregular, or pounding heartbeat
  • Blackouts
  • Changes in vision
  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations (seeing things or hearing voices that do not exist)
  • Loss of coordination
  • Swelling of the eyes, face, lips, tongue, throat, hands, feet, ankles, or lower legs.

If a person with bipolar disorder is being treated with lithium, he or she should visit the doctor regularly to check the lithium levels his or her blood, and make sure the kidneys and the thyroid are working normally.