What is Psychiatric Medication Management and How Can it Help My Loved Ones?
Psychiatric medications are often an essential component of mental health treatment and recovery. They are frequently used in combination with psychotherapy or counseling to stabilize psychiatric symptoms. The decision to use medication to improve your mental health is personal and something you should be very comfortable with.
Psychiatric medications work by targeting our brain’s naturally occurring chemical messengers known as neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are what make it possible for our brain cells to communicate with one another. We have many types of neurotransmitters, each with a different purpose making it possible for our body to function both physically and emotionally.
I am sure you have heard of Serotonin, but did you know it is a neurotransmitter? It is fabulous for helping you achieve that zen moment everyone is striving for and it is often referred to as the “feel-good hormone”. Serotonin helps to manage our sleep-wake cycle, appetite, mood, and our overall well-being. However, if you are deficient in serotonin you can expect to feel sad and maybe even hopeless, helpless, or suicidal.
Dopamine is another well-known neurotransmitter that has many neat functions. It helps with movement and coordination, motivation, and cognitive function. Dopamine is also the major reward center in our brain, meaning it is responsible for pleasure! Unfortunately, dopamine is also the main reason we develop bad habits like an addiction. Too much dopamine can lead to mania and schizophrenia while too little dopamine can result in Parkinson's disease and depression. Some research suggests that Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a result of a decrease in dopamine though we don’t fully understand the exact cause.
Norepinephrine (also known as Noradrenaline), is the main neurotransmitter of the sympathetic nervous system, so it is working to manage your heart rate, blood pressure, and the other organs in your body without you needing to worry at all. It is derived from dopamine and is great for helping us with focus and concentration. Norepinephrine helps us remain alert and is responsible for our fight or flight response during stressful situations. Lack of norepinephrine leads to depression, fatigue, and poor concentration.
Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is frequently referred to as the “calming neurotransmitter” because of its ability to decrease our nervous system activity resulting in reduced excitability, anxiety, and improved sleep patterns. GABA sounds great right? However, too much GABA can result in lethargy, decreased memory, and concentration.
Now that we have discussed in very basic terms a few of the amazing neurotransmitters responsible for our ability to function, let’s move on to the types of medications commonly used in psychiatry. Depending on the focus of psychiatric treatment, there are several classes of medications for your provider to choose from. The medications within each of these classes work to either block or enhance the activity of neurotransmitters known to impact our mental health.
Antidepressants are commonly prescribed in psychiatry as they can relieve symptoms of depression, anxiety and even insomnia, and chronic pain conditions. Antidepressants often target serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine
Antipsychotics are used to treat symptoms of psychosis such as delusions, hallucinations, and paranoia. Antipsychotics are also helpful in stabilizing mania related to bipolar disorder. However, if you do not experience such symptoms and your prescriber recommended an antipsychotic don’t worry, they are often used in lower doses to augment treatment of severe depression, anxiety, and insomnia. Antipsychotics target dopamine.
Sedatives, Hypnotics, and Anxiolytics basically do exactly as their name suggests. This class of medication is used to create a calming effect, promote sleep, and reduce anxiety. The use of these medications should be short-term as our body can become dependent on them over time and require higher doses to achieve the same effect which is called tolerance. Sedatives, Hypnotics, and Anxiolytics work by targeting the GABA receptors.
Stimulants are a class of medications that enhance our brain activity allowing us to feel more awake and alert. These are commonly prescribed for individuals who struggle with focus and concentration which is one of the main components of Attention Deficit Disorder and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Stimulants work by over-activating dopamine and norepinephrine.
Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) is used to help individuals dealing with addiction to opioids like pain medication, heroin, and fentanyl as well as alcohol use. The desired outcome of MAT is to act on the brain's neurotransmitters to reduce cravings for the substance of abuse and also to block the euphoric effect of opioids and alcohol in the event of a relapse. Therefore, minimizing the likelihood of continued use. MAT medications target dopamine receptors.
I have provided you with a very basic blueprint of the different classes of psychiatric medications and the neurotransmitters they target. It is important to understand there is no magic pill to ease your struggles.
Most medications take time, typically 4-6 weeks to reach the maximum therapeutic effect for that dose. If you have not achieved the desired result after allowing appropriate time for your medication to become effective, discontinuing your medication is discouraged as the dose may just need to be adjusted.
If you are experiencing unpleasant side effects, communicate with your health care provider as it is important for them to be aware of when it comes to future treatment planning. Additionally, medication alone can only do so much. Medication combined with therapy and other lifestyle changes can produce amazing outcomes.
Taking psychiatric medications can be scary, especially if it is your first time. My last piece of advice is to not believe everything you hear from friends and family or read on the internet. Remember, everyone’s experience is unique. If you are prescribed medication, but your friend hated it because they experienced negative side-effects for “it just didn’t work”... I encourage you to consider all extraneous factors involved including:
What other medications were they taking and did they have a poor interaction?
How long did they try it for? What dose did they start at? Did they give it a fair trial?
Is it possible they also combined their medication with alcohol and drugs making it ineffective or producing negative effects?
How does their situation differ from yours?
How is your support system different from theirs?
When I am working with my clients, I remind them of these factors often. No two situations are the same, even within family units. As I stated at the beginning of this article, the decision to take psychiatric medication is a personal one and something you need to be comfortable with. You also need to feel comfortable with your psychiatric provider. Prior to starting medications make sure you ask any questions you may have. While taking medications, if you have concerns contact your provider for guidance.
If you are experiencing mental health challenges and wish to discuss whether mediation is a good option for you, please contact me today for a complimentary consultation at 954-391-5305.
Your initial session at our Coral Springs, Florida office will require a psychiatric evaluation with treatment planning and then follow-up medication management as determined appropriate based on your needs.
We will review the benefits and side effects of your medication and make adjustments as required. Counseling and psychotherapy may also be recommended depending on your specific issue. I look forward to speaking with you!