Health Column - April/May 22
Medicating For Mental Health
Given the uncertainty, stress and grief we’ve all experienced in various measures over the last couple of years, it will come as no surprise to hear that mental health issues are on the rise.
Two of the most common mental health disorders in the UK are depression and anxiety. While people suffering from depression may experience low moods, fatigue, insomnia and decreased self-esteem, anxiety manifests itself through feelings of panic, nausea and shortness of breath. It’s possible to be diagnosed with both.
While self-care practices such as exercise, meditation, a good diet and counselling can be effective in treating depression and anxiety, you should always speak to a medical professional if your symptoms don’t improve. Whether or not you’re offered medication will depend on your diagnosis, symptoms and how severely they’re affecting your daily life.
These are the key treatments prescribed by doctors in the UK.
Antidepressants are by far the most well-known medicine group for treating mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. Although not fully understood, it’s believed that they work by increasing levels of certain chemicals in your brain that help improve your mood.
There are several different types of antidepressants, each with various potential side effects. Selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are believed to have the fewest, while older medicines such as tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) and mono-amine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) sit on the opposite end of the scale.
Antipsychotic medications are generally used to treat psychotic disorders but can also be prescribed for severe cases of anxiety and depression. These block the effect of dopamine, a chemical that carries messages across your brain that’s been known to cause symptoms often associated with mental illness.
There are two types; typical or ‘first-generation’ medications have been used since the 1950s, while atypical or ‘second-generation’ antipsychotics were introduced in the 1990s. Although both can cause changes to your body, first-generation antipsychotics are known to cause more side effects than their successors.
Mood stabilisers are a type of medication that can help with mood swings caused by mania, hypomania and depression. They help to control and ‘even out’ these mood swings.
There are three main types, lithium, anticonvulsants and antipsychotics, and they’re often used to treat depression as part of bipolar disorder. This is because, although antidepressant medications can be effective, using them on someone with bipolar disorder could turn a depressive episode into mania. This risk is lower if the person is also taking a mood stabiliser.
Usually prescribed for more severe cases of anxiety, benzodiazepines – or ‘benzos’ – are a type of sedative. They’re typically prescribed on a short-term basis because they can become addictive if taken for longer than a month.
Benzodiazepines are also used to treat insomnia and alcohol withdrawal. If you suffer from sleep problems, you’re more likely to be prescribed hypnotics, whereas anxiolytics are used to treat those with anxiety.
If you are suffering, the first step is to reach out for help. Talking is key, reach out to family, friends or your GP. Putting up with prolonged negative feelings and thinking you just need to pull yourself together, is ignoring the problem. Help is out there, take the first step today.