Mental health care

Medication for mental health conditions

There are many different medications available for treating the range of mental illnesses and conditions that exist. Some of the most frequently used medications include anti-anxiety medicines, antidepressants, antipsychotic medications, mood stabilisers and stimulant medication.

Which drugs treat depression?

For depression, there are several options when it comes to medication. Some common ones are:

  • SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors). Some names of these include citalopram, escitalopram, oxalate, fluoxetine, fluvoxamine, paroxetine HCI and sertraline.
  • SNRIs (Selective Serotonin and Norepinephrine Inhibitors). Some names of these include desvenlafaxine, desvenlafaxine succinate, duloxetine, levomilnacipran and venlafaxine.
  • Other novel serotonergic compounds like vilazodone and vortioxetine.
  • Older antidepressants like doxepin, nortriptyline, imipramine, and amitriptyline.
  • Drugs like bupropion that understood to mainly affect norepinephrine and dopamine.
  • MAOIs (Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors) like phenelzine, selegiline, isocarboxazid and tranylcypromine.

When treating depression with drugs, your GP will determine which medication is right for each individual. It’s also important to remember that antidepressants take between 4 and 6 weeks to work properly. Some people have to try a few different drugs before they find one that works for them.

It is always important to never just stop taking antidepressants. If you quit suddenly, you could relapse.

Which drugs treat anxiety?

Anxiety disorders have many different treatment options. Benzodiazephines are traditional anti-anxiety drugs that are prescribed usually for use in the short term. These drugs are also called tranquilisers and they work quickly. Typically, these drugs work in under an hour and are highly effective during episodes of overwhelming anxiety. It has to be mentioned however, that these drugs are highly addictive.

Benzodiazepine works because it slows down the nervous system. This helps the body to relax both mentally and physically. The dosage varies and a higher dose will have more unwanted side effects. These include feeling uncoordinated, foggy or sleepy. Taking benzodiazepines can affect the ability to work and drive.

What are anxiolytics?

This is a medication that stops anxiety. Anxiolytic drugs are used as a treatment for anxiety. There are many different drugs that have anxiolytic properties. These include barbiturates, benzodiazepines, carbamates, antihistamines, opioids, antidepressants and sympatholytics. Sympatholytics are anti-hypertensive drugs that stop the activity of the sympathetic nervous system. They are used in the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Which drugs treat psychosis?

There are many different types of drugs that are used to treat psychiatric illnesses. Individuals can even take a combination of medications depending on their diagnosis.

In terms of psychiatric medication, there are four main treatments: antidepressants, sleeping pills or minor tranquilisers, antipsychotics and mood stabilisers.

Since we have already listed the antidepressants, we’ll start by discussing different types of antipsychotic drugs:

  • Amisulpride
  • Aripiprazole
  • Clozapine
  • Lurasidone
  • Olanzapine
  • Paliperidone
  • Quetiapine
  • Risperidone

There are some older antipsychotic drugs that are licenced in the United Kingdom. These include:

  • Flupentixol
  • Chlorpromazine
  • Haloperidol
  • Perphenazine
  • Pericyazine
  • Prochlorperazine
  • Pimozide
  • Trifluoperazine
  • Zuclopenthixol

How antipsychotics work

It is understood that antipsychotics alter the effect of certain brain chemicals. These chemicals include serotonin, dopamine, acetylcholine and noradrenaline. It is these chemicals that change a person’s emotions and mood. The main chemical to be affected by antipsychotics is dopamine. By taking antipsychotics, an individual can suppress symptoms or prevent symptoms such as hallucinations, delusions, thought problems and extreme mood swings.

What are mood stabilisers?

Mood stabilisers are a type of psychiatric drug that is licenced for treating some mental health conditions in the long term. This includes mania, hypomania, bipolar disorder and sometimes severe depression.

There are different drugs that are called mood stabilisers that are really different chemically. Health care professionals can prescribe these drugs to individuals who experience extreme mood swings

Mood stabilising drugs include:

  • Carbamazepine
  • Lithium
  • Lamotrigine
  • Asenapine
  • Valproate

In terms of substances, lithium is an element that occurs naturally. It is not a drug that is manufactured. Lamotrigine, carbamazepine and valproate are all anticonvulsants and are often used to treat epilepsy. Asenapine is an antipsychotic drug but it is used primarily as a mood stabiliser.

What are stimulant drugs and when are they used for mental health conditions?

Stimulants are prescribed with the intention of correcting disorders resulting from a deficiency of dopamine in the central nervous system. These drugs increase how much dopamine is in the body by blocking its breakdown or reuptake.

Someone with high levels of dopamine will have increased motor function and an elated mood. They might display as highly motivated too. Excessive dopamine can, however, lead to challenging behaviour as a person ‘craves’ stimulant drugs so the prescription of stimulants needs to be treated carefully.

Common uses of prescription stimulants are ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and other conditions where activity levels, moods and attention are affected.

Common stimulant drugs include:

  • Methylphenidate
  • Dextroamphetamine

Searching for new drugs

CANDO (Computational Analysis of Novel Drug Opportunities) is a platform for drug discovery that is able to predict how effective psychoactive drugs will be and how they act upon the central nervous system. This platform was created by scientists at Purdue University in the United States.

CANDO is looking into the use of cannabis-based drugs that aren’t addictive to help individuals with mental health conditions. The platform is unique in its approach because it looks at compound interactions rather than analysing a drug’s structure. It is able to analyse how a specific drug might work for different mental health conditions and does this by comparing other already-approved drugs.

Rapid tranquillisation

Rapid Tranquillisation (often shortened to RT) is when medication is administered to an individual who needs urgent sedation. This is usually given intravenously.

Sometimes RT is necessary when a patient is behaving in an acutely disturbing or violent manner. The use of Rapid Tranquilisation is intended to reduce any risks to the patient or others including staff or other patients.

The idea behind delivering Rapid Tranquilisation is that there can be further evaluation without a patient’s comprehension or ability to respond to being compromised.