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How Much Do You Know About Mental Health Medications?

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Editor's Note

Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication.

Perhaps you or someone you care about takes medication to help manage a mental health condition. There’s a whole alphabet soup of such medications, from Abilify to Zyprexa and everything in between. As a clinical psychologist, I’ve also noticed there’s also a lot of inaccurate information out there about these types of medications.

How savvy are you about the basics of mental health medications? Take this quick quiz, saying “True” or “False” for each of the 10 questions. The answers and explanations can be found below each question.

1. All mental health medications work equally well for just about everyone.

False. Some mental health medications will be more effective for you than others, and one that works well for you may not be helpful for a friend or family member. It’s often a process of trial and error to find the most effective medication for your unique needs.

2. Mental health medications do not cure mental illnesses.

True. It’s regrettable but our science is not at the point where we can permanently “cure” mental illnesses. So don’t expect any medication to magically erase your mental health issues once and for all. However, medications can be tremendously helpful in reducing or managing distressing symptoms related to a mental health condition.

3. Mental health medications always have to be taken for the rest of your life.

False. It is true that some people may take medication throughout their life for the best management of their mental health symptoms. However, others may eventually be able to stop taking their medication or take a lower dose if symptoms lessen over time.

4. If you think you no longer need to take your medications or feel they aren’t working properly, just stop taking them.

False. Several medications for mental health conditions can have unpleasant and dramatic side effects if stopped too suddenly. The dosage of many medications will need to be slowly decreased while under the supervision of your prescriber before you can stop taking them. It’s not recommended to go “cold turkey” and just stop taking your medications.

5. Non-mental health prescription medications, over-the-counter medicine, recreational substances and alcohol can interact with mental health medications.

True. All of these types of medications or other substances can interact with your mental health medications, sometimes in a harmful or even life-threatening manner. This is why it’s very important to tell your prescriber about any use of other medications or substances to make sure you don’t inadvertently get into difficulties or put your health (or your life) at risk.

6. Older people and people with chronic health problems may be more sensitive to mental health medications and their side effects.

TrueOlder adults, people with multiple health issues, and individuals with a history of brain injury or developmental disabilities can be extremely sensitive to many mental health medications. Side effects may be more noticeable or more uncomfortable among these groups of people. Careful supervision by trained prescribers is essential to manage these types of issues.

7. Mental health medications are never addictive.

False. While most of the mental health medications are not addictive, there are some which have a high potential for abuse and addiction. These medications are primarily some of the ones used to treat symptoms of anxiety or panic. They are in the drug category known as benzodiazepines; common examples include Valium, Klonopin and Xanax. If you use these medications, it’s important to communicate regularly with your prescriber to make sure they are closely monitored.

8. All mental health medications have “side effects.” No medication is completely “safe.”

True. Every medication can cause side effects, and information about common (and less common) side effects is routinely provided in the drug information provided by your pharmacist, or it can be easily found online. Take time to review this information carefully and make sure to let your prescriber know if uncomfortable side effects begin to emerge.

9. It’s not a big deal if you forget to take some of your mental health medications.

False. Medications can’t be fully effective if you don’t take them according to the recommended schedule provided by your prescriber. Not staying on the correct medication schedule is one of the most common reasons for less than ideal improvement of your mental health condition.

10. Mental health medications are one tool among many that may reduce emotional distress.         

True. Usually, the most effective overall treatment plans for mental health conditions include not only medication, but also counseling or psychotherapy. In addition, it’s vitally important to maintain healthy lifestyle changes such as appropriate nutrition, physical activity, adequate sleep, ample social support and avoidance of illegal substances and alcohol overuse.

So, how did you score on the quiz? If you got most or all of the questions correct, you have a good understanding of some of the basic facts about mental health medications. If you missed more than a couple questions, you could likely benefit from additional education about these medications. Here’s one helpful website which provides reliable and accurate information about mental health medications.

Just remember that mental health medications can be extremely helpful as one component in the overall treatment of mental health concerns. However, they need to be used as prescribed and carefully monitored by knowledgeable prescribers. Keep the lines of communication open with your health care professional to gain the maximum benefit from these medications.

Here’s a question: What has been your experience with mental health medications? Please leave a comment.

Originally published: April 21, 2016
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