Pharmacological Therapy for Mental Health

As some of you may know, I’m currently studying nursing at uni. And in nursing, we study the different pharmacological therapies for different illnesses. So for today’s post, I’m gonna use that knowledge, and many pages of study notes, to share with you the different types of medications used to help with mental illness.

I should note that I will be breaking these down by classification and the different types that fall into each.


There are three different categories for anti-depressants; tricyclics, MAOIs, and SSRIs. Now, each of them have the same goal, the only difference is their mechanism in which they reach it. Tricyclics work by blocking the reuptake of certain neurotransmitters causing an accumulation at the nerve endings. This was thought to believe to correct any chemical imbalances. MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors) work by preventing the enzyme monoamine oxidase from performing its job – which is to remove certain neurotransmitters from the brain. This, again, is thought to correct any chemical imbalances. The last category, SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) work by selectively inhibiting the reuptake of serotonin causing an increase.

Commonly prescribed anti-depressants: Paroxetine (pavix/paxil), Fluoxetine (prozac), Celexa (citalopram), Sertaline (zoloft).

Possible side effects: weight gain, nausea, fatigue and tiredness, dry mouth, insomnia, constipation, and/or blurred vision.


This classification of medication is used to help relieve or reduce the symptoms of psychosis, such as delusions or hallucinations. There are two types of anti-psychotics, first generation and second generation. The main difference between these two types is the neurotransmitters affected; first generation anti-psychotics primarily focus on dopamine while second generation anti-psychotics focus on both dopamine and serotonin.

Interestingly, both categories seem to work well overall. However, accoring to Knowledge Exchange CAMH, when the same drug is given to a group, 1/3 of the group will find it will work well, 1/3 will find it will help some of their symptoms, while the other 1/3 will find that it didn’t help at all.

Commonly prescribed anti-psychotics: Risperidone (risperdal), Olanzapine (zyprexa), Ziprasidone (zeldox), Clozapine (clozaril), Aripiprazole (abilify), Haloperidol (haldol).

Possible side effects: weight gain, blurred vision, dry mouth, drowsiness, muscle spasms, and/or  tremors.


The most commonly prescribed anti-anxiety medications are benzodiazepines (CNS depressants). This category of anti-anxiety medications work by increasing the efficiency of the natural brain chemcial, GABA, thus decreasing the excitability of neurons.

However, it is important to note the importance of withdrawal syndrome and tolerance and dependence when talking about benzodiazepines. With long term use of benzodiazepines, a tolerance may be developed and is when the pharmacological effects have diminished.  With discontinuation of benzodiazepines, whether they’ve been used short or long term, it will either have a withdraw or rebound effect. A rebound effect is when the symptoms that were being treated for return and have worsened. The withdraw effect is the new symptoms that appear after the stop of benzodiazepines.

Another category of medications used to help treat anxiety are barbiturates. This category of medications works similarily to benzodiazepines, they potentiate the chemical GABA therefore decreasing nerve impulses.

Commonly prescribed anti-psychotics: Pentobarbital, Mephobarbital, Aprobarbital, Lorazepam (ativan), Clonazepam (klonopin), Alprazolam (Xanax), Diazepam (valium).

Possible side effects: Drowsiness or lack of energy, slurred speech, slow reflexes or clumsiness, confusion or disorientation, dizziness or lightheadedness, and/or nausea.


As the name suggests, mood stabilizers are used to help reduce the mood swings and prevent manic and depressive episodes that are experienced in bi-polar disorder. According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, it isn’t known how mood stabilizers work exactly, but it is thought that they bring stability and calm to the areas of the brain that are overstimulated and overactive.

Commonly prescribed mood stabilizers: Lithium. However, some anticonvulsants and/or antipsychotics can be prescribed to help treat bi-polar disorder.


This type of medications induces temporary improvements in either mental or physical function or both. The most common stimulants, that I’m sure are overlooked, are caffeine and nicotine.

Common stimulants: Concerta, Ritalin, Adderall, Vyvanse, Dexedrine, Pseudoephedrine.

Possible side effects: hyperactivity, impulsive behaviour, and/or short attention span.



Alex Newton is a nursing student and mental health advocate. She grew up in a small town and plans on moving to London, England one day and open up her own health practice. She has a cat named Maya who she adopted whilst going through some difficulties. She’s a daughter, sister, and warrior who enjoys a nice cuppa tea.

You can follow Alex here: Instagram  Twitter  Tumblr

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s