Medication for Mental Health: Helpful Information

Medication for Mental Health: Helpful Information

Medication for mental health conditions are referred to as psychotropic drugs. Now before you bite your tongue trying to pronounce that word, know that you are highly unlikely to use this word ever again in your life. Rather, the different categories of psychotropic drugs may be of more interest to you. They are: 

  1. Antidepressants (used in treating depression)
  2. Anti-anxiety meds (used in treating anxiety)
  3. Antipsychotics (used in treating psychosis and schizophrenia)
  4. Mood stabilizers (used in treating bipolar disorder), and 
  5. Stimulants (used in treating ADHD)

So let’s think about this. If medication can be used in the treatment of mental health disorders, then there is a biological component to mental health. I’m saying this so that you know that it’s not only evil spirits, as our culture often presumes, that cause mental health issues. There are chemicals in the brain that often (through no fault of the individual), become imbalanced. This may be due to genetics, environmental circumstances, illness, etc. When these chemicals are imbalanced, it is usually good for a person to get some help in living a normal life. 

Medication for mental health issues should only be taken if therapy alone has not worked (not just attending the sessions but doing the work outside therapy as well), when symptoms are making it extremely difficult for a person to function optimally, and/or when a person a danger to themselves and others. There are 4 important things to know about medication for mental health:

Medication – Therapy Combination

Imagine you’re a doctor and a patient suffering from malaria (confirmed not COVID, so you can relax, lol) comes to you for treatment. You will likely prescribe malaria medication and send them on their way. Imagine that this person comes back almost every 3 months with the same diagnosis. You are likely to start to ask about the person’s living environment, if there’s stagnant water around, if they use mosquito nets, and so on. You would give them advice on lifestyle changes so they can prevent the recurrence of the illness. Medication alone cannot fix these lifestyle factors. Rather, mindset and behavior change is needed. 

The same goes for mental health issues. People taking medication for mental health issues should be in therapy and remain in therapy for the duration they on the medication. Medication alone cannot stop a person from making the unhealthy life choices that maintain the illness. This helps with symptom management, mindset changes, healing, processing of feelings and experiences, and tapering off the medication if possible. 

Medication Is Not a Life Sentence

Many of my clients, have expressed a fear of going on medication for the mental health issues they experience. Many worry they will become dependent on the medication for the rest of their lives. I don’t blame them. I would be concerned too. However, in many cases, combined with therapy and hard work, a person can gradually taper off medication. For example, hypertension is a condition that can be rectified if a person takes their medication, eats healthy, exercises, sleeps adequately and avoids prolonged and intense stress. The same applies to most mental health conditions. Besides becoming dependent, another reason people are often reluctant to take psychotropic medication has to do with the concern about side effects.

Side Effects

All chemicals have effects on our bodies that are wanted and unwanted. Unfortunately many prescription drugs come with a list of potential side effects. Some are mild, some give side effects that are similar to the condition you’re trying to treat, and others are so severe that they are worse than the condition being treated in the first place! Smh!

All the same, we need medication to help our bodies heal. So just as with medication for diabetes, hypertension, migraines, antibiotics, etc., psychotropic medication has side effects as well. Always discuss your concerns with your doctor, therapist or psychiatrist. If you experience side effects keep your therapist updated. There are usually options to change the medication you’re on, or help manage the side effects. Also disclose any other medications you are on, because drugs sometimes have negative interactions with each other. 

Needing Help Is Okay

Sometimes needing help is seen as weak. And especially in our society where religion is so common, taking medication for mental health challenges can be seen as, “Ye of little faith.” Again, just as it is okay for you to take medication to help with diabetes or hypertension, it is also okay to need medication for depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, etc. It is better to get the help you need, that to suffer so that people won’t think you’re weak or faithless. Medication helps your brain to balance its chemicals to function they way it needs to. You are not weak, you are not faithless! In fact it takes bravery to admit to needing help, and faith to believe that the medication will work. 

So if taking medication for mental health issues is an option for you or someone you know, having the right information is important. Ask all the questions you need to, and share all your concerns with your healthcare provider. 


Author: Petrina S. Adusei, MBS CARE

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