When to Start Mental Health Medications

On June 6, 2023

“Should I be taking medications to help me feel better?” 

Our therapists and psychiatrists hear this question often. 

The short answer I give is (as with everything) it depends.

Even the idea of discussing psychiatric medications makes many people anxious.  So, before we dive in, here are a few things to keep in mind:  

      • For most people the decision isn’t extremely urgent.  You can take a few hours, days, weeks or longer to decide if taking psychiatric medication is something you want to look into further. 
      • There is rarely a single “right” answer to this question, or a “right” medication.  The decision to take (or not take) medications is yours and may change over time.   
      • You shouldn’t make this decision alone. 

Psychiatrists are trained to prescribe medications for mental illness, and more importantly, are trained to figure out if medications can be helpful for the types of symptoms our patients are experiencing.  We can discuss the pros and cons, including how often medications work and how often they cause side effects.  You can always make an appointment to discuss if medications are an option without walking away with a prescription.  Make sure to explain to your doctor that you want to discuss both medication and non-medication options for treatment.  

If you have a therapist already, they often play a role in decision making as well.  They can help you look at your current symptoms, the ways in which they affect your everyday life and how helpful non-medication options can be (or have already been) for you. 

Here are situations that make me more likely to recommend medications to patients: 

      • You’ve had similar symptoms before and medications have helped in the past.   
      • Your symptoms are severe and you are struggling to meet your responsibilities at work or home. 
      • You or those close to you are worried about safety (like suicide attempts or violence). 
      • You are experiencing psychosis (like hallucinations or paranoia) or there are concerns about symptoms of possible Bipolar Disorder. 
      • You are (or have recently been) in a higher level of care, like a hospital, residential treatment center, partial hospitalization program or intensive outpatient program. 
      • You have a strong biological family history of psychiatric illness. 
      • You have been sick for a while (even if symptoms are on the milder end) and despite psychotherapy and behavioral changes, you still aren’t feeling better.   

The most important takeaway is that if you are wondering about medications- just ask!    
Most psychiatrists love to talk about the role medications play (and don’t play!) in the treatment of psychiatric illness—with or without our prescription pad ready.  

-Dr. Rebecca Durkin

About The Author

Dr. Rebecca Durkin
Dr. Rebecca Durkin is a Board Certified General Psychiatrist who specializes in Psychopharmacology (and loves the outdoors).

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