The Ins and Outs of Psychiatric Medications

The Ins and Outs of Psychiatric Medications

Many mental health disorders are believed to be, in part, a result of chemical imbalances in the brain. For some individuals, psychotherapy, healthy diets, and exercise are sufficient for managing their condition. Others may still struggle, which is where the assistance of psychiatric medications may provide significant benefits. The purpose of psychiatric medications is to balance out the chemicals in the brain to help individuals overcome and manage their mental health. 

The choice to take psychiatric medications does not have to confuse or complicate your recovery. Mindful Living Group’s psychiatric and medical team are well-versed and knowledgeable about the many benefits and risks of taking prescription medications. For some individuals, starting medications becomes a turning point in their recovery. The length of time you may take psychiatric medications depends solely on your progress and is a meaningful conversation to have with your prescriber. Contrary to popular belief, the use of psychiatric medications is not acting in bad faith to live a natural life and pursue holistic treatment. When necessary, appropriate medication can be an act of self-compassion and taking proper care of your health. 

Psychiatric Medications 101

Psychiatric (or psychotropic) medications affect neurotransmitters and alter emotions, mood, and behaviors. Neurotransmitters are messengers that help the cells in the brain to communicate. Mental health disorders are, in part, believed to be caused by an imbalance of certain neurotransmitters. Medications work by adjusting the levels of these chemicals in an effort to create an appropriate balance. 

How The Brain Communicates

The brain’s communication process within itself and the rest of our bodies is overwhelmingly complex. Broadly speaking, our nervous systems communicate via electric signals. The emission of neurotransmitters initiates these signals. The primary neurotransmitters are serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, GABA, acetylcholine, glutamate, and endorphins. Neurons (nerve cells) are the “messenger pathways” and communicate to each other via synapses (a junction point between neurons). At this junction is a tiny space between each neuron called the synaptic cleft. It’s in this space that part of the magic happens. Neurotransmitters are released into this space and are to travel a short distance to the receptors of the next neuron. 

When there is an “excess” amount of neurotransmitters, they are either reabsorbed and recycled (reuptake) by the neuron they were released from or broken down by enzymes. Reuptake Inhibitor medications prevent this process, allowing a higher concentration of neurotransmitters to remain in the synaptic cleft. Other types of medications “block” the receptor sites, ultimately reducing the level of chemicals received by the neuron.   

Types Of Psychiatric Medications

There are five main groups of psychiatric medications: antidepressants, antipsychotics, anxiolytics and hypnotics, mood stabilizers, and stimulants. Each group is formulated according to particular conditions and symptoms. 

Antidepressants are divided into five main sub-groups, or types, according to the distinct neurotransmitters that are targeted. These groups are Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs), Tricyclic Antidepressants (TCAs), Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs), and Atypical antidepressants. These medications act by inhibiting the reabsorption process of any excess neurotransmitters released. The increase of chemicals is believed to elevate mood and reduce or eliminate many of the symptoms associated with depression. 

Antipsychotics are used in the treatment of various forms of psychosis. They are frequently used as a mood stabilizer or coupled with antidepressants to amplify the effects. There are two types of antipsychotics, typical and atypical. Typical antipsychotics are the first generation of the medication type and are typically not prescribed unless absolutely necessary. Atypical antipsychotics generally affect the receptors for serotonin and dopamine. This is done by blocking the receptor sites and limiting the level of chemicals allowed to be used. The decreased levels have shown to be beneficial in treating the symptoms associated with schizophrenia, bipolar disorders, irritability in autism, and a secondary medication for major depressive disorder. 

Mood stabilizers are psychiatric medications primarily used to treat bipolar disorders but may be used for schizoaffective disorders with bipolar disorder symptoms. Additionally, mood stabilizers are often added to other medications as an adjunct. The dominant effect they have on the brain is reducing the drastic shifts between “highs” and “lows.”

Anxiolytics and hypnotics are frequently grouped together because of their similar effects on the brain. Anxiolytics reduce anxiety, while hypnotics are used for sleep disorders such as insomnia. The two types of medications have a sedative effect and should be taken with extreme caution. A common sub-group between the two is benzodiazepines, which reduce anxiety and aid in sleep. 

Stimulants are commonly affiliated with treating ADHD and substance abuse. However, when used appropriately, the medications offer significant benefits to individuals who require them. Stimulants may be prescribed to people who have been diagnosed with narcolepsy, as they work to increase alertness, arousal (awakeness), and endurance. 

Are Psychiatric Medications Right For You?

Like any health condition, it is essential to seek care from the appropriate doctors. Mindful Living Group has a team of expertly trained and highly knowledgeable psychiatric nurse practitioners ready to help. Psychiatrists will often evaluate a patient utilizing various testing, physical examinations, and consultations prior to prescribing any medication. Secondly, they will work with each patient to establish a treatment plan. Psychiatric medications work best when used as an addition to psychotherapy and any other recommended lifestyle changes. 

Medications are not the most suitable option for everyone. It is important for your health and safety to honestly discuss all of your symptoms and concerns with your psychiatrist. The more information you are able to provide, the better your doctor can help you. It’s important to note that everyone reacts differently to medications. For most psychiatric medications, you will not feel the full effects immediately. For example, SSRIs can take anywhere from 18-24 months for the individual to feel the full impact of the medication. 

Finding the correct medication and dosage takes time. This process often feels defeated, but don’t give up on yourself – the caring team at Mindful Living Group won’t. If you have been taking a medication and have not noticed any changes, do not quit taking the medication. Be sure to contact your prescriber and discuss concerns. Many medications require being weaned off to avoid any withdrawal illnesses. Ultimately, whether or not psychiatric medications are a good choice is between you and your psychiatrist. 

Benefits And Risks To Psychiatric Medications

Psychiatric medications are no different than any other medication. They can be essential to a person’s mental health or come with side effects and risks. Because everyone reacts differently to medications, it can be challenging for doctors to know exactly how each person will be affected. In general, some of the most common side effects felt are dry mouth, sexual dysfunction, gastrointestinal problems, drowsiness, or insomnia. Each type of medication has a multitude of side effects and risks. It is critical to inform your prescriber immediately if you notice any kind of allergic reaction (fever, rashes, vomiting, etc.), unusual sensations, or impairing side effects. 

Psychiatric medications are not a cure. When taken as prescribed, medications may reduce or eliminate specific symptoms. Some individuals report a sense of clarity in thoughts and recognize their mood is relatively consistent. Other benefits are seen through increased productivity, better sleep, and helping people pursue their life goals. By re-balancing, the chemicals in the brain of individuals suffering from depression may feel fewer low moments of sadness and despair while feeling motivated to enhance their connections with others. The benefits may differ depending on a person’s specific struggles and disorder. 

Talk To Mindful Living Groups Medical Team About Psychiatric Medications

If you suffer from persistent symptoms or struggle to progress in your therapy, contact Mindful Living Group and schedule an appointment with one of their psychiatric nurse practitioners. Love and compassion for your personal health come in many forms, including psychiatric medication. The medical team is available to help you overcome and manage your health, guiding you to a life you love.