For patients who are considering taking medications for their mental health, one of the most common concerns that are mentioned to the therapist is the concern of side effects. While there are risks and benefits to taking medications (just as there are also risks and benefits of going to therapy, being in a relationship, changing jobs, etc.) one of the most important things is to be informed, ask questions, and know what your options are.
Be informed: If you are currently taking medication for your mental health, or are considering taking medication, do you understand your diagnosis and the medications that are commonly prescribed? For example, medication prescribed for Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) include stimulants such as Adderall and Ritalin. Common side effects of stimulants may include loss of appetite weight loss, mood changes, feeling nervous, increased heart rate, headache, dizziness, stomach pain, sleep problems, and dry mouth.
These medications are very different from antidepressants and there are many options available. Five major classes of medications for depression include the following– selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIS), serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), and atypical-antidepressants. Some possible side-effects-of antidepressants can include nausea, weight gain, tiredness, trouble sleeping, dry mouth, blurred vision, constipation, dizziness, and anxiety. Keep in mind that some people may experience minimal side effects while others may have many more.
Talk to your provider: If you are new to medication management, your medical or mental health provider can share some basic information and assist with a referral, if needed to med management. Then the medication manager can evaluate your medication needs and provide psychoeducation on your options. This includes the risks and benefits of medications and possible side effects. Please ask questions and be actively involved in the process. It is important, to be honest with your provider about topics such as substance use and taking other medications as these can contribute to side effects.
Take medications as prescribed: It is recommended to take all medications as prescribed since not taking medications as prescribed can contribute to side effects. Please read the labels of your medications and carefully follow the instructions. Again, ask questions to be sure that you understand any possible side effects. When you start taking a new medication, there may be some side effects that are relatively common as your body is adjusting to the medication. Some individuals stop taking their medication, but abruptly taking certain medications can make things worse; therefore, communication with your doctor is key.
Explore options with your doctor: Medication dosages may be adjusted, or your provider may try a different medication. For example, while stimulants are commonly prescribed for ADHD, there are also many nonstimulant-medications such as Strattera and Guanfacine. Sometimes a slight adjustment or change in medications can make a significant difference. Other minor changes such as the time of day when medications can have a huge impact.
Focus on well-being: To help minimize side effects, focusing on good health helps. Seeing a therapist can help manage symptoms. In individuals where the onset and severity of symptoms may be more long-lasting, medication management and medication combined with therapy can provide relief. While the risks for medication include possible side effects, the benefits can greatly outweigh the risk and help improve functioning in so many important areas of life.
If you would like to learn more about medication management at CARE, check out our webpage:
Written By: Charlotte Johnson, MA, LPCC
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