When you think of being sick, you probably think about having a cold or a stomachache. Some illnesses, though, can affect the mind rather than the body. "Mental disorders" is a general term for illnesses that affect the brain, changing the way a person feels, thinks, and behaves. Anyone can develop a mental disorder: a friend, a family member, a teacher, maybe even you. Some disorders are mild and short-lived, while others are severe and long-lasting. Mental disorders can be treated with medications, psychotherapy
, or both.
Before they start taking medication, people should have a good evaluation from a health care provider who has experience treating mental disorders. Psychiatrists are doctors who specialize in mental disorders. Sometimes they work with nurse practitioners who also have special training in mental health. Often pediatricians prescribe these medications, too, especially for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
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What kinds of medications are used?
Different kinds of mental disorders are treated with different kinds of medications:
All medications have a generic name, which is the chemical name for the drug. Many medications also have a brand name, which is the trade name given to that chemical by a company. Here's an easy way to tell the two apart: Generic names usually don't start with a capital letter, while brand names always do. Generic drugs are usually cheaper than brand-name ones, but they work the same. back to top
What can these medications do?
Medications will not cure a mental disorder, but they can make the symptoms easier to handle, just as aspirin can lower a fever without curing the infection that causes it. Sometimes people can feel back to normal as long as they keep taking their medication, but may have problems again when they stop. The right medication can help a person feel better, think more clearly, and behave more normally. This may make it possible for the person to get on with life. However, no pill can magically solve all of a person's problems. For this reason, medication is usually combined with psychotherapy
, which involves talking about feelings with a trained professional. Psychotherapy can help a person change thoughts, actions, or relationships that play a part in the mental disorder.
A person with a mental disorder might take medication for a few weeks, a few months, or forever. How long depends on the person and the disorder he or she has. Some people with depression or anxiety may need to take medication for a single period lasting several months, then never take it again. Sometimes medication for anxiety can be taken for a short period of time. On the other hand, some people with schizophrenia
or bipolar disorder
may need to take medication for the rest of their lives. back to top
What side effects may occur?
Like any medication, those used to treat mental disorders can affect different people in different ways. Some people may respond well to one medication, while others do better with another. Some people need a larger dose than others. Age, sex, body size, drinking, using illegal substances, taking other medications, and having other medical problems are just some of the factors that can change how a particular medication works in a given person's body. Some medications cause your skin to be sensitive to sunlight.
Medications used to treat mental disorders can cause unwanted side effects. If you are taking a medication, it is important to ask your health care provider about the possible side effects. Make sure you or a parent knows what to do if side effects occur. Don't stop taking your medication or start taking more or less of it without talking with your health care provider first. back to top