What is the role of medication in psychiatry?

Not all psychiatric challenges require medication. For many people, however, psychiatric medications can be life-changing. 

If you struggle with mental health challenges, you already know how it impairs your capacity to function effectively. Emotional health problems can take over your life and cloud your thinking. Active mental health conditions interfere with your ability to maintain a routine, hold down employment, or sustain meaningful relationships.

A holistic approach to emotional wellness often includes psychotherapy, healthy wellness choices, and medication.

Medication and mental healthMedication can support healthy lifestyle changes

Most people who struggle with mental health issues find that sticking to a routine, eating nutritious food, and engaging in regular light-to-moderate exercise is beneficial in relieving their symptoms; to the extent that they’re able to commit to these lifestyle improvements. Making healthy changes to your lifestyle is associated with improved mental health outcomes. However, struggling with mental health issues often makes it that much more difficult to even start, let alone sustain, significant improvements to your lifestyle.

You may find that medication enables you to stabilize your mood, improve your ability to function at home and at work, and start taking better care of yourself. Medication is often a complement to psychotherapy and holistic care, reinforcing your ability to stick to healthy sleep, nutrition, and exercise routines.

Is psychiatric medication a lifelong commitment?

Some people are uncomfortable with the idea of taking medication for emotional challenges or fear that if they start taking medication, they’ll have to continue taking it forever. For many people, this actually isn’t the case. While it is true that some people do need to take medication for life (similar to many lifelong physical illnesses), many people are able to take medication for a year or so just to get through a particularly challenging time in life, while they simultaneously build coping skills in psychotherapy and gain resilience in other ways.

If medication can help you thrive, we will recommend choices that can help you move forward, confident that you’re doing what you need to do to take care of yourself and invest in your own well-being.

If your challenges have been triggered or aggravated by particular stressors, you may be able to reduce or eliminate your reliance on medication as you gain the skills to better handle stressful life situations.

Taking medication doesn’t change who you are, but it does make life more manageable

Some people avoid taking medication for fear of how it might change their personality. Psychopharmaceutical drugs do affect brain chemistry, which also affects your behavior. But taking medication doesn’t change who you are. You’re still the same person, with the same personality; it just helps you regulate your moods and behaviors so that you feel more in control, focused, and balanced.

Think of medication as taking the edge off your struggles, so that you’re calmer, more able to think clearly, and function better. Medication can help you better cope with what comes your way.

Finding the best treatment for your mental health

Mental health treatments vary significantly. A thorough evaluation of all your symptoms and diagnosis by a qualified psychiatrist needs to be completed before any medication can be prescribed.

A good psychiatrist will guide you about what medications and therapeutic approaches will be most beneficial for you, and which lifestyle changes might make the biggest improvement to your quality of life.

Some patients benefit most from psychotherapy and in certain cases taking medication might not even be appropriate. For most people, the most effective treatment involves a combination of medication and psychotherapy, with regular review to ensure the effectiveness of your treatment.

There’s a wide range of psychiatric drugs available, that are carefully calibrated to treat a broad range of mental health conditions, ranging from mild depression to more extreme disorders (such as those elaborated on below). Most people actually don’t require highly mood-altering psychopharmaceutical drugs, and find that even mild treatment options make a significant improvement to their daily functioning and well-being.