How to Take Mental Health Meds Safely

Mental Health Medication

If you take psychotropic medications, meaning anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medications, mood stabilizers, or anti-psychotic medications, it’s not unusual that at one time or another during the course of your working with your psychiatrist, you may experience a side effect or a drug interaction.

This one makes you small, this one makes you tall…

Like Alice in Wonderland, who drinks a potion and grows too small to reach the key she has left on a table, and who then eats a cake that makes her grow so tall she hits her head on the ceiling, taking medications to try to feel “just right” can be quite the unnerving experiment.

It’s only one of the many reasons that working with a therapist while taking psychotropic medication for a mental health diagnosis is a good idea… another being that the addition of psychotherapy to psychotropic medication generally leads to faster relief of symptoms, longer periods of time without relapses, or both.

The psychotropic medication roller coaster…

The up-and-down roller-coaster ride of trying to get the right medications, in the right dosages, in the right combinations to help alleviate mental health symptoms can be frustrating, confusing, and sometimes downright scary.

Being able to be informed about what is normal to expect in terms of both beneficial and potential side effects can be helpful as you begin that process.

When medications interact…

It’s important that you know that one of your psychotropic medications can interact with another one of your psychotropic medications, or with an over-the-counter medication, or even with an herbal supplement you take.

Sometimes taking more than one medication can either increase the effectiveness of one (or both) medications, decrease the effectiveness of one (or both) medications, or cause side effects that would not even occur with just the one medication.

“Great, now I’m thinking I have every side effect listed!”

Everyone wants to be an informed consumer of something as powerful as psychotropic medication. Everyone wants to be an informed consumer of something However, some clients I work with have been told by their doctors (or have learned through personal experience) that it’s not a good idea for them to research side effects or read the prescription inserts about their medications.

Upon researching their meds, these individuals may begin to obsess about the possibility of having one of the many side effects that are listed for each medication.

“I’m not taking something with all those side effects!”

It’s important to remember that pharmaceutical companies are required to list ALL side effects that people taking their medication during drug trials experienced. It doesn’t matter if they were mild, moderate, or severe or if the side effects had anything to do with taking the drug (it is often impossible to know what causes what).

Do a drug interaction check instead!

I would agree that if reading about the potential side effects of medications make you either not want to take a medication that has been recommended to you, or it makes you obsess or worry about having those side effects, then you don’t have to read the package inserts.

However, there is something else you can do instead… and that is to use a drug interaction checker.

You can be an informed consumer!

How can you be an informed consumer of psychotropic medication and possible drug interactions? You can go to either of these websites: drugs.com or medscape.com , type in all of the medications, prescription drugs, over-the-counter medicines, or herbal supplements you take, and find out if any of them interact.

You can learn if there are any potentially serious interactions you should be aware of. If you have questions, you can consult your pharmacist or your prescribing doctor for more information.

“A Little Power is a Dangerous Thing”

There is a saying that “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” But it is also said that “Knowledge is Power.” I personally think that it’s a little power that is a dangerous thing, but that’s another topic altogether. What you’re looking for is a balance between too little knowledge and so much that it freaks you out… if you need help in finding the balance, that’s where a little therapy is worth its weight in gold… or prescriptions!

DrAnita Sanz, PhD, Psychologist

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