What Every Patient Needs to Know About Mental Health Medications

Mental health treatment has made great strides in recent years. Depending on the diagnosis, treatment can involve counseling, individual or group psychotherapy, hospitalization or medication. It is important that patients are aware of the risks and benefits of each form of treatment so they can fully participate in creating a treatment plan.

Many psychologists believe that medications are frequently the best treatment option, as they are known to reduce symptoms and limit relapses. Proponents note that medications reduce the severity of symptoms, promote sleep and rest, and even help with concentration and clear thinking.

Opponents claim that medications only provide temporary relief and ignore the underlying problem. They also note that many prescription drugs have unwanted side effects that may end up worse than the original problem. In fact, some medication may even cause withdrawal-related problems.

Stuck in this tug-of-war, many mental health patients are confused about the benefits and risks of their prescribed medications. This guide will help illuminate many hidden dangers in common mental health medications.

Depression

It is important to note that some young people (under age 24) who took these mood elevators became suicidal. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) the following are some of the most commonly prescribed medications for depression.

Fluoxetine (Prozac)
Serious side effects include rash, fever, joint pain, swelling, difficulty breathing, hallucinations and seizures. Pregnant and nursing women and people over aged 65 should be cautious about taking fluoxetine.

Sertraline (Zoloft)
Serious side effects include blurred vision, seizures, fever, confusion, irregular heartbeat, abnormal bleeding and hallucinations. Pregnant and nursing women, those who have had a heart attack, seizures or liver or heart disease should inform their doctor before taking sertraline.

Escitalopram (Lexapro)
St. John’s wort and tryptophan should be avoided when taking escitalopram. Pregnant and nursing women and people who have had liver, kidney, thyroid or heart disease should be cautious about taking this drug. Additionally, doctors and dentists should be notified of prior use if you have a surgery scheduled.

Bipolar Disorder

NIMH also lists the most common prescriptions given for bipolar disorder.

Lithium
Serious side effects of lithium include muscle weakness or stiffness, vomiting, tiredness, blackouts, seizures, slurred speech, headache, rash, swelling and hallucinations. People with organic brain syndrome, thyroid, heart or kidney disease should consult their physician before taking this drug – the same goes for women who are pregnant or nursing. Surgeons should be informed of lithium use prior to surgery as well.

Valproic Acid (Depakote)
Great caution should be taken in prescribing this to children younger than two years and people taking more than one anti-seizure medication, as valproic acid may cause serious liver damage. People with urea cycle disorder or a family history should likely not be prescribed valproic acid.

This drug is also feared to cause suicidal thoughts or serious, even fatal, damage to the pancreas. Other serious side effects include unusual bruising, fever, purple rash, confusion, difficulty breathing or swallowing and joint weakness.

Aripiprazole (Abilify)
Older adults with dementia stand a greater chance of death from using this drug. People under age 24 have an increased chance of developing suicidal thoughts. Individuals who have used street drugs or abused prescription medication are strongly urged to tell their doctor prior to taking this medicine, as are those who have a history of heart disease, heart attack or heart failure.

People who take aripiprazole are strongly urged to avoid alcohol – even people who are not diabetic may experience hyperglycemia as a result of taking it. Other serious side effects include fainting, seizures, chest pain, high fever, confusion, rash, swelling and difficulty breathing or swallowing.

 

Anxiety

Anxiety covers a number of diagnoses including obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Some of the most frequently prescribed drugs for anxiety include the following:

Venlafaxine (Effexor)
As with other mood elevators, venlafaxine poses a risk of suicide in young people – those taking this medicine should avoid St. John’s wort and tryptophan. People who have abused illegal or prescription drugs, or who have suffered from heart attack, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, glaucoma, seizures or heart, kidney, liver or thyroid disease should tell their doctor prior to taking this drug.

Serious side effects include rash, hives, itching, difficulty breathing or swallowing, chest pain, seizures, unusual bruising, fever, hallucinations and coma.

Citalopram (Celexa)
Like other mood elevators, citalopram poses a risk of suicide in young people. The following people should notify their doctors prior to taking Citalopram: people suffering from QT syndrome, people who have abused street or prescription medicines, along with anyone experiencing an irregular heartbeat, congestive heart failure and pregnant and nursing women should notify their doctor prior to taking this medicine.

Serious side effects include shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness, hallucinations, fever, confusion and coma.

Bupropion (Wellbutrin)
Young people under age 24 may develop suicidal thoughts when on bupropion. People who have suffered from seizures, anorexia, bulimia, drink copious amounts of alcohol, abuse street drugs or prescription medicines, have a brain or spine tumor, diabetes, are pregnant or nursing, or suffer from liver, kidney or heart disease should tell their doctor before taking this drug.

Serious side effects include seizures, confusion, hallucinations, fever, hives, swelling, chest pain and difficulty breathing or swallowing.

 

ADHD

The most common medicines used to treat ADHD according to the NIMH are as follows:

Methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta)
All are cautioned that methylphenidate can be habit forming. People who suffer from tics or Tourette syndrome, glaucoma, heart attack, depression, bipolar disorder, are overactive thyroid, are pregnant or nursing and those who have difficulty digesting sugar, starch and dairy should tell their doctor prior to taking this medicine.

Serious side effects include chest pain, fainting, weakness, seizures, agitation, hallucinations, tics, depression, hives, blisters and difficulty breathing or swallowing.

Amphetamine (Adderall)
People who suffer from cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, hyperthyroidism, glaucoma and have a history of abusing street drugs and prescriptions should avoid Adderall. Serious side effects include suppression of growth in children, confusion, hallucinations, fatigue, vomiting, convulsions and coma.

Dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine)
People who take L-glutamine, or suffer from glaucoma, hyperthyroidism, anxiety, irregular heartbeat, heart attack, depression, bipolar disorder, tics or Tourette syndrome, or are pregnant or nursing should tell their doctor before taking dextroamphetamine. Serious side effects include chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, seizures, hallucinations, paranoia, fever, blisters, hives, swelling and difficulty breathing or swallowing.

 

Schizophrenia

NIMH has also identified the most frequently prescribed medicines used for treating schizophrenia.

Chlorpromazine (Thorazine)
Older adults with dementia are cautioned that chlorpromazine use may cause premature death. People who suffer from asthma, emphysema, lung infections, glaucoma, breast cancer, seizures and heart, liver or kidney disease, as well as pregnant and nursing mothers should tell their doctor prior to use. Serious side effects include fever, confusion, muscle stiffness, yellowing of skin and eyes, sore throat, chills, neck cramps, unusual bleeding, difficulty breathing or swallowing, seizures, blisters, rash, swelling and vision loss.

Haloperidol (Haldol)
Older adults who suffer from dementia may have an increased risk of death from taking haloperidol. People who have Parkinson’s, a family history of QT syndrome, breast cancer, bipolar disorder, heart disease, thyroid disease or are pregnant or nursing should consult their doctor prior to using this drug. Serious side effects include fever, confusion, sweating, neck cramps, difficulty breathing or swallowing, seizures, rash, yellowing of the skin and eyes and uncontrollable, rhythmic face, mouth or jaw movements.

Fluphenazine
As with other antipsychotic medications, older people with dementia who take fluphenazine have an increased risk of death. People who have glaucoma, enlarged prostate, difficulty urinating, overactive thyroid or liver, kidney or heart disease, or are pregnant or nursing should tell their doctor before taking this drug. Serious side effects include jaw, neck and back spasms, difficult speech, flu-like symptoms, severe rash, yellowing of the skin and eyes and irregular heartbeat.

 

Authoritative Sources

Medicines for Treating Mental Health Conditions: A Review of Research for Adults and Caregivers.

National Institute of Mental Health: Mental Health Medications

National Library of Medicine’s MedlinePlus