Mental Health Medications | Drugs Used To Treat Mental Illnesses

Many people take medications to help treat their mental health conditions. These prescription drugs can ease psychological and behavioral issues by altering your brain chemistry.

In 2020, 16.5% of U.S. adults took medication to help treat a mental health condition. Many different types of medication can ease mental illness symptoms by altering your brain chemistry. 

At Ohio Recovery Center, our mental health professionals can help you manage your medication, how often to take it, and make adjustments as needed.

What Are Mental Health Medications? 

Mental health medications (also called psychiatric medications) are substances that change the way neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) work in your brain. These changes can help treat psychological and behavioral issues associated with certain mental health conditions

The medications come in multiple forms, including:

  • pills
  • capsules
  • dissolvable tablets
  • liquids
  • patches
  • injections

Like medications that treat physical issues, mental health medications may have side effects. 

The side effects you experience will depend on personal factors, such as the dosage and your genetics. You might need to try multiple medications before you find the one that meets your needs and causes the fewest side effects. 

In general, mental health medications work best when combined with other treatment options, such as psychotherapy (also called talk therapy), support groups, and wellness activities. 

Types Of Mental Health Medications

There are five main types of mental health medications: anti-anxiety medications, antidepressants, antipsychotics, mood stabilizers, and stimulants. 

Anti-Anxiety Medications

Anti-anxiety medications can reduce anxiety and panic caused by mental health conditions such as anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The most common medications used to treat anxiety include:

  • buspirone (BuSpar)
  • anti-seizure medications, such as gabapentin (Neurontin) and pregabalin (Lyrica)
  • beta-blockers, such as propranolol (Inderal) and atenolol (Tenormin)
  • benzodiazepines, such as alprazolam (Xanax), clonazepam (Klonopin), and diazepam (Valium)

Common side effects of these medications include drowsiness, dizziness, and headache. Also, benzodiazepines pose a high risk of physical dependence. That’s why many doctors only prescribe them for short-term use. 


As the name suggests, antidepressant medications are typically used to treat depression. They can also ease symptoms of other conditions, including anxiety disorders, OCD, and PTSD. 

The most common antidepressants include:

  • selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as fluoxetine (Prozac), sertraline (Zoloft), and citalopram (Celexa)
  • serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), such as duloxetine (Cymbalta), venlafaxine (Effexor), and milnacipran (Savella)
  • bupropion (Wellbutrin), a norepinephrine-dopamine reuptake inhibitors (NDRI)

In some people, SSRIs and SNRIS cause side effects like weight gain, sexual dysfunction, and emotional numbness. Bupropion may also have side effects, including anxiety, trouble sleeping, and loss of appetite.

In addition, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), antidepressants may increase suicidal thoughts in children and adolescents. 


Antipsychotic medications can help treat symptoms of psychosis, including paranoia, delusions, and hallucinations. Psychosis is most likely to affect people with conditions such as schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, and bipolar disorder.

The most common antipsychotics include:

  • quetiapine (Seroquel)
  • olanzapine (Zyprexa)
  • risperidone (Risperdal)
  • aripiprazole (Abilify)
  • clozapine (Clozaril)

These medications may cause side effects such as:

  • drowsiness
  • dizziness
  • tremors
  • trouble urinating
  • constipation, which can be life-threatening if left untreated
  • sexual dysfunction 

Some people also experience more serious side effects, including seizures, heart problems, and suicidal thoughts or behaviors. 

Mood Stabilizers 

Mood stabilizers are used to treat mood swings caused by bipolar disorder or other mental health problems. Some doctors also use them alongside other medications to treat depression. 

The most common mood stabilizers include:

  • lithium
  • anticonvulsants, such as valproic acid (Depakote), lamotrigine (Lamictal), and carbamazepine (Carbatrol)
  • certain antipsychotics, including Abilify, Zyprexa, and Risperdal 

Both lithium and anticonvulsants may cause side effects such as:

  • fatigue
  • nausea
  • headache
  • tremor
  • confusion
  • sexual dysfunction

In rare cases, lithium can also cause seizures and loss of consciousness. 


Simulants can boost alertness, attention, and energy in people with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). 

The most common stimulants include:

  • amphetamine/dextroamphetamine (Adderall)
  • dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine)
  • lisdexamfetamine (Vyvanse)
  • methylphenidate (Concerta) 

These medications can cause side effects such as:

  • irritability
  • anxiety
  • trouble sleeping
  • loss of appetite and weight loss
  • increased blood pressure and heart rate

In addition, some people abuse prescription stimulants by using them in a manner not prescribed. This behavior can lead to serious health problems, including psychosis, addiction, and overdose. 

How To Manage Mental Health Medications

Always take mental health medications under the guidance of a mental health care provider. Before you start a medication, tell your provider about any other drugs and supplements you use. Some substances can have negative or even dangerous interactions with certain mental health medications. 

If your medication does not seem to be working, or if you experience side effects, tell your mental health care provider. Sometimes, it takes a few weeks for a medication to start working or for side effects to fade. 

However, if these issues persist, your provider can adjust your dosage or transition you to another medication. Never stop taking a mental health medication without talking to your provider first. 

Some medications can cause withdrawal symptoms if you quit them too quickly. To reduce this risk, your provider will help you slowly taper off the medication instead of quitting cold turkey. This strategy helps your body adjust to the lack of medication. 

To learn more about mental health treatment, please reach out to Ohio Recovery Center. Our board-certified healthcare providers offer a variety of personalized, evidence-based services to help you or your loved one thrive.

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — Mental Health Treatment Among Adults: United States, 2020
  2. Food and Drug Administration — Suicidality in Children and Adolescents Being Treated With Antidepressant Medications
  3. National Alliance on Mental Illness — Mental Health Medications
  4. National Institute on Drug Abuse — Prescription Stimulants DrugFacts
  5. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus — Lithium

Written by Ohio Recovery Center Editorial Team

Published on: July 25, 2023

© 2024 Ohio Recovery Center | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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