Starting Psychiatric Medication Treatment: Keys to Success
This section provides information for students who have recently begun taking psychiatric medications or are considering medication treatment. Skip to the next section if you are looking for tips on managing your medication.
Treating a chronic mental health disorder with medication is a process that requires an ongoing commitment. It is best to think of treatment as a long-term investment rather than a quick fix.
- Although there are effective treatments available for most mental health disorders, these treatments are not “cures.” That is, the treatments can help you manage symptoms of the disorder, but some form of ongoing treatment or management is usually necessary so that symptoms remain in check.
- If the treatment is successful and your symptoms get better, you may be tempted to stop taking your medication. But if you have an ongoing mental health problem such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, then you will most likely find that your symptoms return once you stop taking your medication. Talk to your care provider or pharmacist before making any adjustments to your medication, even if you are feeling better.
- Because mental health treatment is an ongoing commitment, it is important that you find a care provider or providers with whom you feel comfortable. Good care providers don’t just prescribe medication; they listen to your concerns, help you overcome difficulties, and make treatment a collaborative process.
- Keeping regular appointments with your care provider is important, especially when you first begin treatment. Regular appointments help you and your care provider monitor treatment progress and make adjustments as necessary.
When starting treatment you may feel frustrated if you do not begin to feel better right away. It may take time before you start experiencing the full benefits of treatment. Here are some possible reasons why:
- In general, psychiatric medications work by influencing chemical processes in your brain. Although some medications have fast-acting effects and can start improving symptoms almost immediately, most psychiatric medications take weeks or even months before they achieve their full impact. Your care provider or pharmacist can help you set realistic expectations about how long it might take for you to start experiencing benefits from your medication.
- It’s common to notice improvements in your appetite or sleep before you see an effect on your mood or thoughts. Also, others around you may notice improvements before you do.
Example: SSRIs & Patience
The most commonly prescribed antidepressant medications, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), are believed to work by increasing the activity of a chemical called serotonin in the brain. For some, it takes a month or more for SSRIs to have a noticeable effect on symptoms. So it is important to keep taking an SSRI as prescribed even if you do not experience immediate relief of symptoms.
- Prescribing and managing psychiatric medication is a complicated process. No two people respond to medication in exactly the same way, and some medications that are very effective in some people are not as effective in others. It may take time for you and your care provider to find the medication (or combination of medications) and dosage that works best for you.
For people with mental health disorders that require ongoing care, it is often necessary to make adjustments to treatment over time.
- For various reasons, medications that were effective at the start of treatment sometimes become less effective over time.
- When this happens your care provider may recommend that you try a different dose, try a new medication altogether, or that you supplement treatment with psychotherapy or other non-medical interventions.
- If you experience a side effect from your medication, your care provider may suggest dosage or medication changes to reduce the likelihood of this side effect.
- Do not adjust your dose on your own. Always evaluate your medications and dosages in consultation with your care provider.