Mental Health Medications
Medications are used to treat the symptoms of mental disorders such as schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder (sometimes called manic-depressive illness), anxiety disorders, and attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Sometimes medications are used with other treatments such as psychotherapy. This guide describes:
This [material] does not provide information about diagnosing mental disorders. Choosing the right medication, medication dose, and treatment plan should be based on a person's individual needs and medical situation, and under a doctor's care.
- Types of medications used to treat mental disorders
- Side effects of medications
- Directions for taking medications
- Warnings about medications from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Information about medications is frequently updated. Check the FDA Web site for the latest information on warnings, patient medication guides, or newly approved medications. Throughout this document you will see two names for medications—the generic name and in parenthesis, the trade name. An example is fluoxetine (Prozac). See the [Alphabetical List of Medications] for a complete alphabetical listing of medications.
What are psychiatric medications?
Psychiatric medications treat mental disorders. Sometimes called psychotropic or psychotherapeutic medications, they have changed the lives of people with mental disorders for the better. Many people with mental disorders live fulfilling lives with the help of these medications. Without them, people with mental disorders might suffer serious and disabling symptoms.
How are medications used to treat mental disorders?
Medications treat the symptoms of mental disorders. They cannot cure the disorder, but they make people feel better so they can function.
Medications work differently for different people. Some people get great results from medications and only need them for a short time. For example, a person with depression may feel much better after taking a medication for a few months, and may never need it again. People with disorders like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, or people who have long-term or severe depression or anxiety may need to take medication for a much longer time.
Some people get side effects from medications and other people don't. Doses can be small or large, depending on the medication and the person. Factors that can affect how medications work in people include:
- Type of mental disorder, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia
- Age, sex, and body size
- Physical illnesses
- Habits like smoking and drinking
- Liver and kidney function
- Other medications and herbal/vitamin supplements
- Whether medications are taken as prescribed.
Source: National Institute of Mental Health
NIH Publication No. 08-3929
Page last modified or reviewed on September 14, 2010