Mental Health Medication

Published on 21 October 2015

The hashtag #MedicatedAndMighty is trending worldwide on social media, as people are proudly and openly talking about how using their mental health medication is improving their lives. Philip Wenger, Pharm.D., BCPS, associate professor of pharmacy practice, at St. Louis College of Pharmacy has the following advice for patients using mental health medications and those considering their options.

Be patient

If you are prescribed medication, follow the instructions and stick to the medication routine. It may take three to four weeks to see any benefit and six weeks or longer to feel the full effects of antidepressant medications. Effects of short-term anti-anxiety medications are usually felt in a couple of hours, but the long-term medications can take weeks as well. Your pharmacist will review this information when you fill the prescription.”

Unique problems, unique solutions

Patients react differently to the same medication. Medication that works for one patient might not work, or may cause adverse effects, for another. Patients need to have open communication with all members of their health care team, from pharmacist to the prescribing physician about the effects and side effects.

Be flexible

Over time, medication that once seemed to help may lose its effectiveness for various reasons. Open, ongoing communication with your health care team can help spot potential problems like this. Taking the time to check in with your pharmacist when filling your prescription is a great way to stay ahead of potential issues and start the process of figuring out if your medication needs an adjustment or if it is time to explore other options.

Side effects

Taking antidepressant or antipsychotic medications increase the chance for weight gain. Knowing that ahead of time, you can be vigilant about diet and exercise, which can also help with some underlying mental health problems. The medication may also make you sleepy or nauseated. I recommend keeping a journal of your improvements and problems. It can help you, and your health care team, determine if anything is out of the ordinary.

Medication interactions

There is a significant risk of mental health medications interacting with other prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, or supplements. If you use one pharmacy, the pharmacist will check for any interactions with other prescriptions before you receive the medicine. When starting treatment, talk to the pharmacist about interactions and be sure to mention over-the-counter medications and supplements which won’t automatically be in the pharmacist’s records. You may need to stop using common medications for cold and flu relief or even ibuprofen. Combining medications can affect how much of each is absorbed into your body.


Knowing whether to take the medication with or without food is important. Some medications need to be taken with food to work their best. Others can be taken with food to lessen the chance of nausea. Similar medications used to treat depression have different guidelines. For example, venlafaxine (generic for Effexor) should be taken after with food, but duloxetine (generic for Cymbalta) may actually be less effective with food. Most antidepressants can be taken with or without food. Work with your pharmacist to establish a good medication routine. Not only will you be more likely to take the medication, you’ll be giving it the best chance to help.


Combining alcohol and mental health medications can be a bad idea. You’ll be increasing the sedative effects of some medications and possibly affecting how much of the medication is absorbed into your body. The risk is higher for a class of medications that treat anxiety. Combining alcohol and benzodiazepines could cause serious breathing problems.

Don’t change your medication routine on your own

If your symptoms get better or you experience adverse effects from your medication, it may be tempting to skip doses or stop taking your medication altogether. If you stop your medication, symptoms are likely to return quickly. Don’t make any adjustments to your medication regiment on your own.

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