8 Types of Mental Health Medications, Drugs
The idea of taking mental health medication, or drugs, can be intimidating. On one hand, someone wants to feel better and overcome mental health problems or disorders. On the other hand, the idea of taking medication can provoke anxiety.
It's common for people to wonder if mental health drugs should be taken at all; what benefits will medication bring, and will those benefits outweigh side-effects? (Check the side-effects of specific psychiatric medications.) If a doctor prescribes a drug, which type of mental health medication will it be and what will it do?
These questions are common among people who are considering taking mental health medications. Answers do exist, but like anything else in the world of mental health, there are few, if any, concrete answers.
Caveats to Mental Health Medications
Researchers are continually studying mental health medications. Much progress has been made, but much has yet to be done in order to fully grasp how the brain, the mind, and medication work (read: Causes of Mental Illness). There is enough understanding to know what various types of medications do for the symptoms of different mental illnesses, so psychiatrists and other doctors prescribe with confidence.
Another important concept to keep in mind is that every single individual, and his or her brain, is unique. A mental health drug that works well for one person might not work at all for another. Also, required dosages (amounts of medication taken at once) vary from person-to-person as does the duration or length of time one is on a medication.
Therefore, it's important to gather a great deal of information about the types of mental health medications and use it to engage in an informed discussion with your mental health doctor about what might and might not work for you. (Questions for Your Mental Health Doctor)
Medication and Brain Chemistry
Sometimes, mental health problems occur where there is a chemical imbalance in the brain. Chemical substances called neurotransmitters send and receive messages throughout the brain. Among the neurotransmitters are dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, glutamate, and gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA). If there is too much or too little of a particular neurotransmitter, mental health problems can occur. Medication works by restoring the chemical balance within the brain.
When mental disorders arise because of a chemical imbalance in the brain, medication can go a long way toward helping someone feel and function better.
Unfortunately, there currently isn't a way to medically test for a chemical imbalance, so it can be a matter of trial-and-error to see if medication works, what type works, how much, and for how long.
Types of Mental Health Medications
Mental health drugs fall into the following eight categories:
- antidepressant medications (treat depression and long-term anxiety)
- antipsychotic medications (for psychotic symptoms like hallucinations and delusions)
- mood stabilizers (help bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder, and severe symptoms of some personality disorders)
- psychostimulants, stimulants (for ADHD and narcolepsy)
- anxiolytics (sedatives and anti-anxiety medications used to calm short-term anxiety)
- central nervous system depressants (, induce sleep)
- substance abuse medications (aid in substance withdrawal, decrease use problems)
- cognitive enhancers (for Alzheimer's disease, other dementias, and the cognitive impairment of severe mental illness)
These reliable mental health organizations have information about specific medications:
What Do Mental Health Drugs Do?
While there isn't yet a cure for mental illness, various treatments, including mental health medications, can go a long way toward alleviating symptoms. Difficulties such as mood disorders, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are among those mental illnesses that have been proven to respond well to medication.
When symptoms of mental illness are reduced, people often find that the quality of their life increases. Social interactions are easier and better; thus, positive relationships increase. Many people whose symptoms are improved through medication are able to work in paid or volunteer positions. Recreational activities, too, can be enjoyed.
In general, mental health medications are tools that people can use as part of a comprehensive treatment program that includes various types of counseling or therapy, to empower themselves to live a life of quality and enjoyment despite having a mental health condition.
Last Updated: 20 May 2018
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD