On Medication Management of Mental Health

Though I’ve been writing on the topic of mental health, I enjoy reading other blogs on the topic as well. I’ve seen several that talk about medications prescribed for conditions like depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. For this post, I’d like to share some of my insights about mental health medication both from a personal standpoint (I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder in 2013) and from a professional standpoint (I am a therapist and mental health clinician).

Mind, body, and social network

Any fair discussion about mental health medication must start from an understanding that humans have many facets. When I was in graduate school, I learned that you can’t address mental health from just one perspective. A person’s mental health (diagnosis or not) is influenced by the following components: mind, body, and social network (and for some, spirituality). Unfortunately, many try to tackle mental health issues from just one of these perspectives; for example, they may believe medication alone is the answer; that attending therapy is the key; that exercising more and eating right will remedy the situation. Some manage stress by venting to their friends or family members. Humans are complex and each person must find ways to regulate their mind, body, and social interactions. Medication, which I will discuss further, is simply a tool to manage the “body” component of mental health.

What are psychotropic medications and do I need them?

Mental health medications (also known as psychotropic medications) are medications that help those with mental health conditions cope with various symptoms. There are medications that neutralize panic attacks, improve impulse control for those with severe ADHD, assist with insomnia, and meds that balance neurotransmitters (brain chemicals that influence mental health symptoms). And those are just a few of the uses for psychotropic medication.

Answering the question of whether or not you need psychotropic medication will be unique to each person. Medication is usually an option that is explored after other methods have been attempted, such as therapy, nutrition management, implementing coping skills, or engaging in behavior modifications. A person should explore psychotropic medication if their symptoms interfere with their day-to-day functioning and results in some sort of distress for them or those around them. The gold standard for treating chronic mental health conditions are psychotherapy + medication management.

Who can I talk to about psychotropic medication?

In the United States, the majority of psychotropic medications are prescribed by primary care physicians (PCPs). While this is often the easiest way to start the conversation with a medical professional about medication, it is important to know that most PCPs do not receive extensive training in mental health. You may consider speaking with a psychiatrist or even a psychiatric nurse practitioner if you want insight from someone with more formal mental health training. The choice of PCP, psychiatrist, or psychiatric nurse practitioner will depend on how you pay for healthcare and what services are offered in your area.

Medication misuse

I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this aspect; however, it is obvious that there are times when psychotropic medication is abused and misused. In my town, many of the providers are refusing to prescribe Xanax because of its addictive qualities and because of the increase of patients selling their medication for profit. In addition, we constantly hear about celebrities who have overdosed on antidepressants (usually in combination with alcohol.) While this is a tragedy that occurs too often, it should not deter you from considering medication if you need it. Talk to your provider about your concerns. It’s their job to provide guidance about proper use and to adjust doses to fit your needs. In addition, all medications come with a brochure that includes a wealth of information. Educate yourself.

Are medications worth the risk?

If you’ve been prescribed a medication, the provider has determined that the benefits to you outweigh the possible risks. I can’t answer the question of if medication is right for you; however, I can share briefly about my personal experience with anti-anxiety medication:

As mentioned earlier, I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety in 2013 from a therapist. This was after going through a few months in which I had several panic attacks daily. Shortly thereafter, I met with a nurse practitioner who prescribed me an anti-anxiety medication. It helped me for a few months by reducing the panic attacks and overall anxiety. I later discontinued the medication because I did not like the way that particular medication made me feel.

I continued to use the skills gained from seeing a therapist to manage my anxiety for the years that followed. It also helped that I spent years in school learning about mental health and its treatment (my own struggle with anxiety is what made me choose to become a therapist). Towards the end of 2017, the panic attacks returned and began to increase in frequency. I met with my PCP who prescribed an anti-anxiety medication (different from the one I took years ago). Unfortunately, this medication was not effective and had the side effect of severe migraines. I spoke to my PCP and he instructed me on how to wean off of that medication and to start a different medication (Side note: DO NOT stop medication abruptly! It can be fatal. Always consult your physician.).

Since then, the new medication has been very helpful and I have worked with my PCP to tweak the dosages to a level that works best for me. Recently, he prescribed a PRN (which means, “for occasional use”) to take when I am having a panic attack. A few months into resuming psychotropic medication, I am seeing some improvement in my anxiety.


Psychotropic medication is a needed tool for many suffering from mental health issues. From my own experience using medication to manage anxiety and from working with clients who are prescribed psychotropic medication, I have learned a few things:

• Medication is not a band aid, it’s a tool to help cope with symptoms and conditions that have become unbearable.

• Taking medication is not a sign of weakness.

• Medication is not always a necessary option (remember mind, body, and social).

• Finding the right provider, medications, and dosages are a process that requires patience and education.

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