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Psychiatric Medication

If you are considering psychiatric medication, seek an evaluation from a physician. However, it will also benefit you to do your own research about psychotropic medications available today, their uses and side effects, and factors to consider when a mental health professional has recommended treatment with medication.

Psychiatric medications (also known as psychotropic medications) affect both the brain and the central nervous system. They alter the action of chemicals called neurotransmitters, or chemical messengers in the brain. A psychiatrist prescribes medication when symptoms of mental or emotional illness are severe, persistent, and interfere with normal functioning. Psychotropic drugs help control symptoms such as anxiety, agitation, profound sadness, depression, disrupted appetite or sleep patterns, confused thinking, poor concentration, altered perceptions and sensations, and physical pain.

Psychiatrists prescribe some psychotropic drugs for medical and neurological disorders and may prescribe more than one medication in order to relieve multiple symptoms. The prescribed medication depends on an individual’s characteristics such as the severity of symptoms, health, age, or pregnancy. All psychiatric medications require careful monitoring and may necessitate initial and ongoing lab work and blood tests, special dietary restrictions, and lifestyle changes. Some newer medications target specific neurotransmitters and provide more effective treatment with manageable doses and fewer side effects.

Medical Intervention

Psychiatrists, or physicians trained to diagnose and treat mental and emotional problems, usually prescribe and monitor psychiatric medication. Other physicians such as internists, family practitioners, gynecologists, and pediatricians may also prescribe psychiatric medications. Your physician may also consult with or recommend you to a psychiatrist for diagnosis and treatment. A psychiatrist or other physician might also recommend that you meet with a counselor. Counseling and medication, when used together, facilitate a return to health and well-being.

Working with a Psychiatrist or Other Physician

When you consult with a psychiatrist or other physician to determine if psychotropic medication is appropriate for you, make sure he or she answers the following questions:

  • What is the diagnosis, and why does he or she recommend a particular medication?
  • What symptoms relief can you expect and when?
  • What should you do if you happen to miss a dose?
  • What are common side effects, and how long will they last?
  • What should you do if you experience an adverse reaction such as rash, severe headache, nausea, vomiting, or breathing difficulties.
  • What initial and ongoing medical tests and/or lab work are required?
  • How long will you be on medication, and how do you discontinue or taper off the drug?
  • Will you need to restrict routine activities or diet?
  • How should you follow up with medication appointments and treatment sessions?
  • How much will your medication cost? Are there ways to defray the cost?