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Drugs to Treat Mental Illness

There are several different types of drugs available to treat mental illnesses. Some of the most commonly used are antidepressants, anti-anxiety, anti-psychotic, mood stabilizing, and stimulant medications.

What Drugs Are Used To Treat Depression?

When treating depression, several drug options are available. Some of the most commonly used include: 

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, Celexa, Lexapro, Luvox, and Viibryd
  • Selective serotonin & norepinephrine inhibitors (SNRIs), such as Effexor, Cymbalta, Khedezla, Pristiq, and Fetzima
  • Novel serotonergic drugs such as Brintellix
  • Older tricyclic antidepressants, such as Elavil, Pamelor, Sinequan, and Imipramine
  • Dopaminergic drugs such as Wellbutrin
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), such as Nardil, Parnate, and Emsam
  • Tetracyclic antidepressants that are noradrenergic and specific serotonergic antidepressants (NaSSAs), such as Remeron

Your health care provider can determine which medication is right for you. Remember that medications usually take 4 to 6 weeks to become fully effective. And if one drug does not work, there are many others to try.

In some cases, a combination of antidepressants may be necessary. Sometimes an antidepressant combined with a different type of drug, such as a mood stabilizer (like Lithium), a second antidepressant, or atypical anti-psychotic drug, is the most effective treatment.

Side effects vary, depending on what type of drug you are taking, and may improve once your body adjusts to the medication.

If you decide to stop taking your antidepressants, it is important that you gradually reduce the dose over a period of several weeks. With many antidepressants, quitting them abruptly can cause discontinuation symptoms or speed the risk for depression relapse.  It is important to discuss quitting (or changing) medications with your health care provider first.

What Drugs Treat Anxiety Disorders?

Antidepressants, particularly the SSRIs, may also be effective in treating many types of anxiety disorders.

Other anti-anxiety medications include the benzodiazepines, such as Valium, Ativan, and Xanax. These drugs carry a risk of addiction, so they are not as desirable for long-term use. Other possible side effects include drowsiness, poor concentration, and irritability.

The drug buspirone (Buspar) is a unique serotonergic drug that is non-habit-forming and often used to treat generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).

Some antiseizure medicines, such as gabapentin (Neurontin) or pregabalin (Lyrica) are sometimes used "off label" to treat certain forms of anxiety.

Finally, some conventional as well as atypical antipsychotic drugs have been shown to reduce anxiety symptoms in the context of treating depression or psychosis, and may also sometimes be used "off label" as treatments for anxiety.

What Drugs Treat Psychotic Disorders?

Anti-psychotics are a class of drugs used commonly to treat psychotic disorders and sometimes to treat mood disorders such as bipolar disorder or major depression. Different anti-psychotics vary in their side effects, and some people have more trouble with certain side effects than with others. The doctor can change medications or dosages to help minimize unpleasant side effects. A drawback to some anti-psychotic medications is their potential to cause sedation and problems with involuntary movements as well as weight gain and changes in blood sugar or cholesterol, which require periodic laboratory monitoring.

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