Coping with Mental Health: Medications

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: March 2023

Treating mental health conditions with prescription drugs is common. About 16 percent of American adults take medicine for a mental health condition. It is not necessary to suffer in silence or “just deal with it” if you have a mental health condition. A prescription can help ease symptoms and support any therapy you try.1

Classes of drugs

There are several classes of drugs used to treat mental health conditions.

Antidepressants

Antidepressants are drugs commonly used to treat depression. These drugs also may be used to treat other health conditions, such as:2

  • Anxiety
  • Pain
  • Trouble falling or staying asleep

The most common type of antidepressant used in the United States is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). Examples of SSRIs include:2,3

  • Prozac® (fluoxetine)
  • Celexa® (citalopram)
  • Zoloft® (sertraline)
  • Paxil® (paroxetine)
  • Lexapro® (escitalopram)

Another common type of antidepressant is a serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI). Examples of SNRIs include:2,4

  • Effexor XR® (venlafaxine)
  • Cymbalta® and Irenka® (duloxetine)

The most common side effects of antidepressants include:2

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

Antidepressants can have serious, life-threatening side effects. If you experience any of the following side effects, call your doctor or 911 right away:2

  • Thoughts of suicide or hurting yourself
  • Attempting suicide
  • New or worsening depression or anxiety
  • Feeling agitated or restless
  • Other unusual changes in your mood or behavior

Anti-anxiety drugs

Anti-anxiety drugs help decrease the symptoms of anxiety, including panic attacks, extreme fear, and worry. The most common class of drugs that treats anxiety is benzodiazepines. Examples include:2,5

  • Klonopin® (clonazepam)
  • Xanax® (alprazolam)
  • Ativan® (lorazepam)

The most common side effects for benzodiazepines include:2,5

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

Mood stabilizers

Mood stabilizers are used for the treatment of bipolar disorder and other mood disorders. Mood stabilizers have been shown to decrease suicidal thoughts and mood swings. Lithium is 1 mood stabilizer that has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It can be used alone or in combination with other drugs.2,6

Other mood stabilizers come from the anticonvulsant class. Common anticonvulsants include:2,6

  • Depakote® (divalproex sodium)
  • Tegretol® (carbamazepine)
  • Lamictal® (lamotrigine)
  • Trileptal® (oxcarbazepine)

Multiple drugs may be needed to manage bipolar disorder. The most common side effects of these drugs include:2,6

  • 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
  • Loss of coordination
  • Swelling of the eyes, face, lips, tongue, throat, hands, feet, ankles, or lower legs

Antipsychotics

Antipsychotic drugs are used to manage psychotic episodes, or psychosis. Antipsychotics treat schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders. In combination with other drugs, and often in lower doses, they also can be used to manage:2,7

  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Severe depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • The manic phase of bipolar disorder
  • Generalized anxiety disorder

First-generation antipsychotics are difficult to tolerate and can have severe side effects. These include:2,7

  • Haloperidol
  • Perphenazine
  • Fluphenazine

Second-generation antipsychotics are better tolerated with less severe side effects. These newer antipsychotics are called “atypical” antipsychotics and include the common brand names:2,7

  • Risperdal® (risperidone)
  • Zyprexa® (olanzapine)
  • Seroquel® (quetiapine)
  • Geodon® (ziprasidone)
  • Abilify® (aripiprazole)
  • Invega® (paliperidone)
  • Latuda® (lurasidone)

Common side effects of antipsychotics include:2,7

  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Restlessness
  • Weight gain
  • Dry mouth
  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Blurred vision
  • Low blood pressure
  • Uncontrollable movements, tics, and tremors
  • Seizures
  • Low white blood cell count

Stimulants

Stimulants are used to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). These drugs can have a calming and focusing effect for those with ADHD.2

Common drugs in this class include:2,8

  • Concerta® and Ritalin® (methylphenidate)
  • Adderall® (amphetamine)
  • Dexedrine® (dextroamphetamine)
  • Vyvanse® (lisdexamfetamine)

Stimulants also may be used to treat narcolepsy and treatment-resistant depression.2,8

Common side effects of stimulants include:2,8

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

Other things to know

The use of prescription drugs to manage mental health conditions carries both benefits and risks that you should discuss with your doctor. Like all drugs, mental health medicines have side effects. Side effects can vary depending on the specific drug you are taking. Some classes of prescription drugs (such as benzodiazepines) may lead to dependence or abuse.2

The side effects listed on this page are not all the possible side effects of mental health medicines. Talk to your doctor about what to expect or if you experience any changes that concern you during treatment.

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