If you are struggling with depression, anxiety, or other mental health problems, it could be your medication. That is, many medications for mental and physical conditions have drug side effects that can hurt your mental health. That doesn’t always mean you should stop taking them. But having a clear understanding of what the drugs you’re taking – prescribed or otherwise – are doing to your mental state can help you regulate your mood and find a healthier balance.

Medications and Mental Health

Prescription medications for everything from acid reflux to seizures can have drug side effects that negatively affect your mental health. One study found that over 37% of people take at least one prescription drug with depression as a side effect. The more of these prescriptions a person reported taking, the higher the chance they exhibited depression symptoms or suicidal thoughts.

That is not to say you should stop taking all your medications. Even if you have an underlying diagnosis of depression, the risk mitigation and physical relief for other medical conditions may outweigh the 15-18% chance (for those taking three drugs with depression as a side effect) that the medication will increase your symptoms. However, it does mean you and your doctor should carefully monitor your mental health. If you observe your depression worsening or start having suicidal thoughts, you may need to consider alternatives or seek psychological help.

Psychiatric Drug Side Effects to Watch Out For

Psychiatric medication, such as antidepressants are well known for their drug side effects. Some people avoid getting diagnosed or treated for their depression or anxiety out of fear of what the medication will do to them. It is true that Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) and other psychiatric medications do have drug side effects including nausea, drowsiness, confusion, and problems with thinking and coordination.

However, not everyone needs drugs to manage their mental health. Often psychotherapy can replace the need for prescription drugs and help people stay healthy without any risk of drug side effects. If medication is necessary, it is important to remember not everyone who takes the drug will experience the side effects. Also, there are several different doses and types of antidepressant and anti-anxiety medications. If you have adverse effects with one, your psychiatrist can provide you with an alternative.

Self-Medication with Drugs and Alcohol Might be Hurting Your Mental Health

Not all drugs come from a pharmacy. Many people try to address mental health symptoms with available substances like alcohol, marijuana, or other drugs, rather than talking to a doctor or psychotherapist. However, this “self-medication” can cause mental health problems of its own.

Drugs and alcohol can make your mental health symptoms worse. You may come dependent on the substance, feeling like you must have it to operate normally. Depending on the substance, long-term drug side effects can also include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia or secrecy
  • Loss of motivation
  • Interpersonal problems
  • Mood swings
  • Sexual problems
  • Drug-induced psychosis

When you turn to a doctor or therapist for help, it is very important to honestly describe any self-medication you use. Unless they know all the chemicals affecting your body, they can’t know how best to help you regulate your mental health symptoms.

Your therapist is not going to report you to the police for drunk driving or using illegal drugs. They aren’t allowed to talk about your condition at all unless you are at risk of suicide or harming others. It is safe to tell them if you have a drug problem or are using illegal substances. They only want to help you get better.

Get Help Managing the Mental Health Side Effects of Medication

If you are feeling anxiety, depression, or other mental health side effects from your medication, your first step should be to talk to the prescribing doctor. There may be ways to adjust the dosage or prescriptions to reduce the effects. However, if you need to keep taking it, or are in transition between drug regimens and still experiencing symptoms, a psychotherapist can help. Psychotherapy can teach you to recognize your symptoms for what they are and develop techniques to help reduce their impact on your life. Talk to your doctor today about a referral to a psychotherapist.

David Stanislaw is a psychotherapist with over 30 years of experience. He helps adults, teens and children with anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns, individually, and as drug side effects. Contact David Stanislaw to get help today.