Side Effects of Mental Health Medications

Mental Health

If you are struggling with mental health & have decided to seek help, there is nothing wrong with using medicines along with other forms of therapy. Medicines can help treat several mild and severe mental health conditions. However, these medicines can have adverse side effects, especially antipsychotic drugs which are used to treat more acute mental health illnesses. Antipsychotic drugs are used to treat mild to severe cases of many disorders including various eating disorders, depression, ADHD, and PTSD. Since mental health medications are potent and can be highly effective in treating these disorders, they can have extreme side effects on the body as well.

Today, we will be taking a closer look at common side effects of mental health medications to help you gain a better understanding of the kinds of effects they can have on the body from both a physical and psychological perspective.

Common side effects of mental health drugs

Mental health medications can have a wide range of side effects. They can be divided into two groups:

Physical side effects 

Examples of physical side effects include:

  • higher blood pressure
  • higher cholesterol levels
  • increased or decreased sex drive
  • weight gain

Psychological side effects 

Examples of psychological side effects include:

  • restlessness
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • lack of energy 
  • sleepiness

Key points about side effects of mental health medications

  • It is important to be aware of the possible side effects of mental health medications and review them with your healthcare provider before you begin treatment. Again, as mental health medications can be very potent they can also have extreme side effects on the body. These side effects can range from mild mood swings to severe motor disorders.

  • Some medications may have rare life-threatening side effects. In order to avoid the possibility of developing serious, and potentially fatal side effects, it is crucial that your health care provider regularly monitors you and the effects the medications are having on your body during your treatment. With proper monitoring, your doctor can potentially adjust or change your medication to reduce your chances of experiencing side effects.

  • As certain mental health medications can have more serious effects over others, some patients may find that the side effects of one medication are too intolerable and will therefore, have to change medications. Consult your doctor to discuss any side effects you are experiencing as well concerns about side effects to ensure you can find the best mental health treatment for you. 

Antipsychotic drugs 

Antipsychotic drugs are often used to treat mental health conditions such as schizophrenia & other psychotic disorders. While these drugs are highly effective, they have severe side effects including a variety of movement disorders. Research is undergoing to introduce newer, less harmful antipsychotic drugs to help patients suffering from psychotic conditions. 

Movement disorders associated with antipsychotic drugs: 

Movement disorders that are associated with antipsychotic drugs can be distressing and disabling, resulting in behavioral disturbances such as aggression that can be disruptive and difficult for the patient’s family to deal with as well. In many cases, motor signs are misinterpreted as psychotic symptoms themselves, only adding to the stigma of psychotic illnesses. 

Below are a few common movement disorders and their symptoms associated with certain antipsychotic drugs: 

  • Parkinsonism: limb stiffness, bradykinesia 
  • Akathisia: restlessness and agitation
  • Tardive Dyskinesia: involuntary movements like chewing, tongue-twisting

Classification of movement disorders 

Movement disorders associated with antipsychotic drugs can be categorized into acute and delayed onset movement disorders. 

Acute

Parkinsonism 

Acute akathisia 

Acute dystonia 

Chronic 

Tardive dystonia 

Chronic akathisia

Tardive dyskinesia 

We have briefly touched upon the kinds of side effects patients undergoing mental health treatment can experience as a result of their medications. One particularly distressing side effect mental health patients can undergo is the movement disorder, Tardive dyskinesia, associated with certain antipsychotic drugs.

Tardive dyskinesia

Tardive dyskinesia is the main late-onset movement disorder associated with antipsychotic drugs. Typical signs and symptoms of Tardive dyskinesia are various types of involuntary movements of the face, tongue and mouth with twisting of the tongue and chewing. This disorder can typically develop after chronic exposure of an antipsychotic drug for a period longer than six months. 

Risk factors to developingTardive dyskinesia

The most consistent risk factor to developing Tardive dyskinesia is advanced age. The disorder is also more commonly seen in female patients. Other risk factors include poor responses to treatment, brain injury, pre-existing Parkinsonism, alcoholism, long term drug exposure and affective disorder. 

Diagnosis of Tardive dyskinesia

Tardive dyskinesia is a diagnosis of exclusion. This means that other possible causes of abnormal movements must be ruled out to make an official diagnosis of Tardive dyskinesia. This is due to the fact that movements experienced by patients of Tardive dyskinesia can also be seen in elderly individuals who have no history of using antipsychotic drugs. These movements have also been seen in patients with schizophrenia.

Treatment of Tardive dyskinesia

Currently undergoing research, several drugs have shown to have been effective in the treatment of Tardive dyskinesia. However, these treatments have been limited. Vitamin E was proposed as an effective treatment but recent studies show that Vitamin E only protects against further deterioration of Tardive dyskinesia but does not prevent it from initially developing.

It has been suggested that melatonin could potentially work as a treatment option. Other studies show that the drug Donepezil has not proven to be effective in suppressing Tardive dyskinesia. 

As Tardive dyskinesia shares some signs with schizophrenia, the drug Clozpane which is used to treat schizophrenia disorder has also been suggested as a possible treatment for Tardive Dyskinesia. Clozapine has a lower risk of developing TD. 

Prevention of Tardive dyskinesia

It is suggested that patients should be examined for movement disorders before starting antipsychotic drug treatment. They should be monitored for extrapyramidal side effects at weekly intervals during acute treatment and until their medication dose has been stabilized. 

Patients taking conventional antipsychotic drugs should be examined for movement disorders every six months while patients taking newer antipsychotic drugs should be examined yearly. Moreover, patients which may be at a high risk of extrapyramidal side effects taking first-generation antipsychotics should be examined every three months while those taking second-generation antipsychotic drugs should be examined every six months.

Contact a doctor 

If your or your loved one is currently experiencing any side effects of mental health medications especially in regards to antipsychotic drugs, it is important to contact your doctor and consult possible alternatives. 

Keys points to remember while calling your doctor 

Discuss with your doctor:

  • if you notice any changes since you started the medications including both positive improvements and negative side effects
  • Steps you can take to suppress and reduce the side effects, along with suggesting other alternatives and options. 

Conclusion

It is important to prioritize your mental health and overall health. Undergoing psychiatric treatment through mental health medication can be difficult, potentially introducing their own equally severe side effects. Working effectively along with your health care provider is crucial to making sure you can find the best mental health treatment for you with the least side effects. Remember to be proactive in regards to protecting your mental health and overall health before you begin and as you continue to take medications to treat your mental health.

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