5 of the Most Common Medications Psychiatrists Prescribe

Published on: 20 Jul 2022
Clinically Reviewed by Ashley Ertel, LCSW, BCD
female psychiatrist speaking to client on coach

Medication can be very effective in treating the symptoms commonly associated with mental health conditions. An in-person or online psychiatrist is a medical doctor who has the licensing, training, knowledge, and authority to prescribe medication and write prescriptions. Furthermore, there are many types of psychiatrists and each one specializes in different areas of psychiatry. 

When prescribed by a psychiatrist, medication can treat major symptoms from mental health conditions such as:

Read on to discover the most common medications typically prescribed for some of the above conditions.

1. Antidepressant Medications

Major depressive disorder isn’t just a condition — depression is also a common symptom of many mental health conditions, including bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and even sometimes schizophrenia. Antidepressant medication can help treat depression in most people. Research shows that more than 13% of adults in the United States have recently taken depression medication

How it works

Antidepressants can help by balancing neurotransmitters in the brain. Neurotransmitters like norepinephrine and serotonin help you sleep better, regulate mood, improve the ability to focus and concentrate, and more. In short, antidepressants can help promote a more positive mood while stabilizing emotions.

“Individuals struggling with depression, or any disorder, often struggle with the symptoms so severely they deter them from daily functioning activities. This is when medication can be helpful, as it helps manage those symptoms to a level that can allow the individual to function. Antidepressants (or any psychotropic medications) do not ‘cure’ disorders.”

Talkspace therapist Minkyung Chung, MS, LMHC

It’s really important to highlight the fact that antidepressants prescribed for depression only treat the symptoms of depression, not the root cause. To be as effective as possible, these medications should almost always be used in conjunction with talk therapy and other lifestyle changes that focus on self-care

There are various types of antidepressants, each with its own pros and cons. This is one reason why it’s so necessary for a psychiatrist who knows you and understands your condition and symptoms to prescribe and carefully monitor antidepressant medication. 

“Antidepressant medications have evolved to have more options for people struggling with depression. It’s important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all for any medication; this applies to antidepressants.” 

Talkspace therapist Minkyung Chung, MS, LMHC

Types of antidepressants:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs): The most commonly used and prescribed type of antidepressant.
  • Serotonin-noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs): Similar to SSRIs, but instead of working on only your serotonin levels, SNRIs work on both serotonin and norepinephrine. This can be a better combination for some people.
  • Noradrenergic and specific serotonergic antidepressants (NaSSAs): Newer class of psychiatric drugs that might be used when SSRIs haven’t been effective. 
  • Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs): An older form of antidepressants, generally not the first drug that will be tried. It can have more severe side effects than most SSRIs or SNRIs but might be effective in cases of extremely severe depression or when other medications haven’t worked.
  • Serotonin antagonists and reuptake inhibitors (SARIs): More commonly used to treat other conditions, but can be used to treat anxiety.
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs): Another older form of mental health medication, rarely used today. 

Some commonly-prescribed antidepressant psychiatrist medications include:

  • Nardil (Phenelzine)
  • Prozac (Fluoxetine)
  • Zoloft (Sertraline)
  • Effexor (Venlafaxine)
  • Wellbutrin (Bupropion)
  • Celexa (Citalopram)
  • Lexapro (Escitalopram)
  • Cymbalta (Duloxetine)
  • Anafranil (Clomipramine)
  • Tofranil (Imipramine)

2. Anti-Anxiety Medication

Anxiety is another common symptom that’s associated with many mental health conditions. It’s also a diagnosable mental health condition on its own — generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) — and there are many other types of anxiety disorders as well. In fact, it’s estimated that almost 40 million adults living in the United States have an anxiety disorder.  

People who struggle with high anxiety may experience debilitating panic attacks and an overall, near-constant feeling that something bad is bound to happen. For these people, anti-anxiety medication might help. 

How it works

This class of anxiety medication works by increasing the activity of certain neurotransmitters in the brain that help you feel calm and relaxed.

Types of anti-anxiety medications:

  • Antidepressants (including some SSRIs, SNRIs, or TCAs)
  • Benzodiazepines (also called “benzos”)
  • Buspirone
  • Hydroxyzine
  • Beta-blockers

Some commonly-prescribed antianxiety psychiatrist medications include:

  • Lexapro (Escitalopram)
  • Zoloft (Sertraline)
  • Paxil (Paroxetine)
  • Cymbalta (Duloxetine)
  • Wellbutrin (Bupropion)

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3. Mood Stabilizers

Mood stabilizers are prescribed for people who live with dramatic mood swings and can’t regulate their moods on their own. This includes, but isn’t limited to, people with bipolar disorder and schizoaffective disorder. 

How it works

Mood stabilizers work by altering brain activity that’s abnormally high. They can be used to prevent both depressive and manic episodes. 

Types of mood stabilizer prescription medications:

  • Lithium
  • Anticonvulsants

Some commonly-prescribed mood stabilizers psychiatrist medications include:

  • Lithobid (Lithium)
  • Depakote (Sodium Valproate)
  • Lamictal (Lamotrigine)

4. Stimulants

Stimulants are used to treat some mental health conditions — including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). 

How it works

Stimulants work by increasing dopamine levels in the brain. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter associated with happiness, pleasure, and motivation. For many people with ADHD, stimulant prescription medication results in increased focus and concentration. This type of ADHD medication also might reduce impulsive behaviors.

Some commonly-prescribed stimulant psychiatrist medications include:

  • Adderall, Adderall XR (Amphetamine)
  • Daytrana (Methylphenidate)
  • Dexedrine (Dextroamphetamine)
  • Vyvanse (Lisdexamfetamine )
  • Concerta, Quillivant XR, Ritalin (Methylphenidate Hydrochloride)

5. Antipsychotic medications

Antipsychotics are used to treat people who have hallucinations, either auditory, visual, or both. This means they see or hear things that aren’t real, and they’re unable to differentiate the hallucination from reality.  Antipsychotic medications are also used off-label, sometimes, for the treatment of depression, bipolar disorder, and other diagnoses.

People who experience hallucinations may have been diagnosed with schizophrenia and some types of bipolar disorder

How it works

Antipsychotic medications work by blocking dopamine reception in the brain. 

Whereas some of the other medications we’ve discussed increase dopamine activity, antipsychotics act to block some communications within the brain, essentially reducing abnormal communications that may be causing delusions and hallucinations. Primarily used as a schizophrenia medication, it can be extremely helpful for managing symptoms.

Some commonly-prescribed antipsychotics psychiatrist medications include:

  • Seroquel (Quetiapine)
  • Zyprexa (Olanzapine) 
  • Abilify (Aripiprazole)
  • Geodon (Ziprasidone)
  • Risperdal (Risperidone)

Seeking Help from a Psychiatrist

While psychiatrists have to go through medical school and complete medical training to become licensed medical doctors, this doesn’t mean a therapist isn’t more than capable of treating mental health conditions with other forms of therapy. This is one reason why therapists and psychiatrists will work closely to provide thorough, complete care for a patient struggling with mental health. In-person or online therapy can be incredibly effective in treating a condition.

“Some clients end up recognizing the need for psychiatric medication management to help cope with their diagnosis. It can happen in the course of talk therapy or even before therapy starts. The important factor to remember is that medication isn’t always a cure but another way to manage symptoms. It helps just enough that talk therapy can be more beneficial for the client. In that respect, psychiatrists and mental health professionals work closely to help a client.”

Talkspace therapist Minkyung Chung, MS, LMHC

Most often, medication for any type of mental health condition will yield the best results when combined with some form of psychotherapy (talk therapy). It’s also important to understand that, unlike medications for most medical conditions, it can sometimes take several weeks for medication used to improve mental health to work. It also might be necessary to try a couple (or several) different medications before you find the one that works the best.

Seeking mental health treatment as early as possible has proven to lead to the most positive and effective long-term outcomes. It’s also imperative that you stay with your psychiatrist recommended medication regime, even if you start to feel better. Abruptly stopping any prescribed medication can cause severe and sometimes life-threatening side effects. Additionally, symptoms can return, sometimes even worse than before.

To find a psychiatrist and begin treatment, consult with your primary care physician. They should be able to recommend someone in your area who specializes in your mental health care needs. 

You don’t have to suffer from the symptoms of a mental health condition. Medication prescribed by a psychiatrist can help improve your quality of life. Don’t wait to get started. Get connected with an online psychiatrist at Talkspace today.

Sources:

1. Brody, M.P.H. D, Gu, M.D., Ph.D. Q. Antidepressant use among adults: United States, 2015–2018. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Center for Health Statistics. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db377.htm. Published 2020. Accessed June 10, 2022.  

2. Facts & Statistics | Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA. Adaa.org. https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/facts-statistics. Published 2021. Accessed June 10, 2022.

Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.

Our goal at Talkspace is to provide the most up-to-date, valuable, and objective information on mental health-related topics in order to help readers make informed decisions.

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