There are many safe and effective medications that may be prescribed to treat symptoms of a mood disorder. Remember, no two people are alike, and therefore it may take some time to find the right medication and dosage that will work best for you.
Medication for Depression and Bipolar Disorder
If you are interested in medication as a treatment option, you will work closely with your doctor to find the right type of medication and dosage.
Antidepressants are used for the treatment of depression. There are several types of antidepressants. Although we don’t know for certain how these (and most) medications work, conventional antidepressants modify chemicals in the brain, including serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. Different antidepressants affect different chemicals (neurotransmitters) in the brain. Most antidepressants take a number of weeks to be fully effective, but some more recently introduced medications, such as intranasal esketamine, can be effective in 1-2 weeks. When an antidepressant is effective, it should be continued for a number of months to ensure that the response is sustained.
Mood stabilizers are a type of medication primarily used to treat bipolar disorder. The goal of a mood stabilizer is to help to even out high and low moods. A mood stabilizer takes several weeks to take effect. Sometimes these medications are used for individuals experiencing more severe depression symptoms.
Antipsychotics were first developed to treat schizophrenia, but they are also often used to treat bipolar disorder. These medications reduce symptoms associated with mania, and some help with depression. Antipsychotics are commonly prescribed to help with symptoms such as hallucinations, delusions, or racing thoughts, but can also be prescribed for individuals without those symptoms. Some antipsychotics are considered mood stabilizers because they, too, even out the highs and lows.
Medication Side Effects
Many medications that affect the brain may also affect other systems of the body, causing side effects such as dry mouth, constipation, sleepiness, blurred vision, weight gain or loss, dizziness, or problems with sexual functioning. Some side effects will lessen or go away while other side effects can be long-term.
Side effects can be managed by working with your health care provider who may recommend adjusting the time of day you take the medication, taking the medication with (or without) food or spreading the medication doses across the day. Sometimes, additional medications can be prescribed to help with side effects. Remember to track the side effects that you feel and communicate them with your doctor to determine whether you’d benefit from an adjustment to the type or amount of medication prescribed. Don’t stop taking medication, change your dosage, or change how you take your medication without first consulting with your doctor.
Substance Use and Medications
Alcohol and recreational drugs may interfere with your mood disorder treatment. Some combinations of drugs, alcohol, and prescription medications can be dangerous. Be sure to consult your doctor and pharmacist to be clear on what substances you can or cannot use when taking medication. Substance use can interfere with the treatment of mood disorders and in people who are not feeling well, it may exacerbate symptoms. If substance use is an area of concern for you, know that there is support available. DBSA offers free online support groups for individuals experiencing dual diagnosis (or someone experiencing a mental health condition and substance use condition at the same time). Find out more about DBSA Online Support Groups here.
Medication and Children
Determining whether your child would benefit from a medication for their mental health condition can be a challenging decision to make. Children can and do take medications to help treat symptoms of a mood disorder, but you should seek a provider that is experienced in prescribing medications for children. Parents should work in partnership with their child to understand symptoms and track side effects and adjustments to new or changing medications. Be sure to talk to your doctor to fully understand what signs and symptoms to watch out for, especially when your child is first adjusting to a new medication. It may be helpful to consider other treatment options before medication to determine if they can be effective in treating symptoms. Common forms of treatment for children include talk therapy, learning new communication skills, and wellness strategies. Remember, parents and caregivers are responsible for helping children monitor and manage medication. Children should not ever stop, change, or adjust medications without first consulting a doctor.
Medication While Pregnant or Nursing
If you are currently taking medication and considering becoming pregnant, be sure to discuss this with your health care provider, ideally in advance of trying to get pregnant. If you do become pregnant and are currently taking medications, consult your doctor right away. Your doctor can help you make decisions on what will be best for your own mental health and what will pose the least risk to your baby’s health. Although many medications used to treat mood disorders can be safely used during pregnancy, some can cause birth defects. The greatest risk usually occurs within the first three months of pregnancy, but some medications can also be harmful in late-stage pregnancy. Some medications impact breastfeeding. Be sure to discuss these issues with your doctor.
Medical Interactions and Other Medical Conditions
Certain medications used to treat other conditions may interfere with medication for mental health. Be sure that all your doctors are aware of all medications and supplements you are taking so they can be sure that there won’t be any interactions that would be harmful or cause additional side effects. It also should be noted that some other medical conditions can cause symptoms of depression or agitation. Discuss your symptoms with all your providers so they can be on the lookout for other medical conditions that may be causing symptoms of depression or agitation.
What if I Don’t Feel Better?
Remember, it can take several weeks for medications to work fully, so it is important to be patient with the process of adjusting to a new medication. It can be frustrating to feel the side effects of a medication before feeling the benefits, but you’ll likely be able to determine if it is going to be helpful after several weeks. DBSA recommends using our free Wellness Tracker resource when taking a new medication so you can track your mood and symptoms as you adjust to a new drug or drugs.