Mental Health Medications

Mental Health Medications


Medications can play a role in treating several mental disorders and conditions. Treatment may also include psychotherapy (also called “talk therapy”) and brain stimulation therapies (less common). In some cases, psychotherapy alone may be the best treatment option. Choosing the right treatment plan should be based on a person's individual needs and medical situation, and under a mental health professional’s care.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), a Federal research agency, does not provide medical advice or referrals. Resources that may help you find treatment services in your area are listed on our Help for Mental Illnesses web page.

NIMH also does not endorse or recommend any particular drug, herb, or supplement. Results from NIMH-supported clinical research trials (What are Clinical Research Trials?) that examine the effectiveness of treatments, including medications, are reported in the medical literature. This health topic webpage is intended to provide basic information about mental health medications. It is not a complete source for all medications available and should not be used as a guide for making medical decisions.

Information about medications changes frequently. Check the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) website for the latest warnings, patient medication guides, or newly approved medications. Brand names are not referenced on this page, but you can search by brand name on MedlinePlus Drugs, Herbs and Supplements Drugs website. The MedlinePlus website also provides additional information about each medication, including side effects and FDA warnings.

Understanding Your Medications

If you are prescribed a medication, be sure that you:

• Tell the doctor about all medications and vitamin supplements you are already taking.

• Remind your doctor about any allergies and any problems you have had with medicines.

• Understand how to take the medicine before you start using it and take your medicine as instructed.

• Don't take medicines prescribed for another person or give yours to someone else.

• Call your doctor right away if you have any problems with your medicine or if you are worried that it might be doing more harm than good. Your doctor may be able to adjust the dose or change your prescription to a different one that may work better for you.

• Report serious side effects to the FDA MedWatch Adverse Event Reporting program online at] or by phone [1-800-332-1088]. You or your doctor may send a report.




What are antidepressants?
Antidepressants are medications commonly used to treat depression. Antidepressants are also used for other health conditions, such as anxiety, pain and insomnia. Although antidepressants are not FDA-approved specifically to treat ADHD, antidepressants are sometimes used to treat ADHD in adults.

The most popular types of antidepressants are called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Examples of SSRIs include:
• Fluoxetine
• Citalopram
• Sertraline
• Paroxetine
• Escitalopram

Other types of antidepressants are serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). SNRIs are similar to SSRIs and include venlafaxine and duloxetine.

Another antidepressant that is commonly used is bupropion. Bupropion is a third type of antidepressant which works differently than either SSRIs or SNRIs. Bupropion is also used to treat seasonal affective disorder and to help people stop smoking.

SSRIs, SNRIs, and bupropion are popular because they do not cause as many side effects as older classes of antidepressants, and seem to help a broader group of depressive and anxiety disorders. Older antidepressant medications include tricyclics, tetracyclics, and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). For some people, tricyclics, tetracyclics, or MAOIs may be the best medications.

How do people respond to antidepressants?

According to a research review by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, all antidepressant medications work about as well as each other to improve symptoms of depression and to keep depression symptoms from coming back. For reasons not yet well understood, some people respond better to some antidepressant medications than to others.

Therefore, it is important to know that some people may not feel better with the first medicine they try and may need to try several medicines to find the one that works for them. Others may find that a medicine helped for a while, but their symptoms came back. It is important to carefully follow your doctor’s directions for taking your medicine at an adequate dose and over an extended period of time (often 4 to 6 weeks) for it to work.

Once a person begins taking antidepressants, it is important to not stop taking them without the help of a doctor. Sometimes people taking antidepressants feel better and stop taking the medication too soon, and the depression may return. When it is time to stop the medication, the doctor will help the person slowly and safely decrease the dose. It's important to give the body time to adjust to the change. People don't get addicted (or "hooked") on these medications, but stopping them abruptly may also cause withdrawal symptoms

What are the possible side effects of antidepressants?

Some antidepressants may cause more side effects than others. You may need to try several different antidepressant medications before finding the one that improves your symptoms and that causes side effects that you can manage.

The most common side effects listed by the FDA include:
• Nausea and vomiting
• Weight gain
• Diarrhea
• Sleepiness
• Sexual problems

Call your doctor right away if you have any of the following symptoms, especially if they are new, worsening, or worry you(U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 2011):
• Thoughts about suicide or dying
• Attempts to commit suicide
• New or worsening depression
• New or worsening anxiety
• Feeling very agitated or restless
• Panic attacks
• Trouble sleeping (insomnia)
• New or worsening irritability
• Acting aggressively, being angry, or violent
• Acting on dangerous impulses
• An extreme increase in activity and talking (mania)
• Other unusual changes in behavior or mood

Combining the newer SSRI or SNRI antidepressants with one of the commonly-used "triptan" medications used to treat migraine headaches could cause a life-threatening illness called "serotonin syndrome." A person with serotonin syndrome may be agitated, have hallucinations (see or hear things that are not real), have a high temperature, or have unusual blood pressure changes. Serotonin syndrome is usually associated with the older antidepressants called MAOIs, but it can happen with the newer antidepressants as well, if they are mixed with the wrong medications. For more information, please see the FDA Medication Guide on Antidepressant Medicines

Antidepressants may cause other side effects that were not included in this list. To report any serious adverse effects associated with the use of antidepressant medicines, please contact the FDA MedWatch program using the contact information at the bottom of this page. For more information about the risks and side effects for each medication, please see Drugs@FDA. .

Anti-Anxiety Medications

What are anti-anxiety medications?
Anti-anxiety medications help reduce the symptoms of anxiety, such as panic attacks, or extreme fear and worry. The most common anti-anxiety medications are called benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines can treat generalized anxiety disorder. In the case of panic disorder or social phobia (social anxiety disorder), benzodiazepines are usually second-line treatments, behind SSRIs or other antidepressants. Benzodiazepines used to treat anxiety disorders include:
 Clonazepam
 Alprazolam
 Lorazepam
Short half-life (or short-acting) benzodiazepines (such as Lorazepam) and beta-blockers are used to treat the short-term symptoms of anxiety. Beta-blockers help manage physical symptoms of anxiety, such as trembling, rapid heartbeat, and sweating that people with phobias (an overwhelming and unreasonable fear of an object or situation, such as public speaking) experience in difficult situations. Taking these medications for a short period of time can help the person keep physical symptoms under control and can be used “as needed” to reduce acute anxiety.

Buspirone (which is unrelated to the benzodiazepines) is sometimes used for the long-term treatment of chronic anxiety. In contrast to the benzodiazepines, buspirone must be taken every day for a few weeks to reach its full effect. It is not useful on an “as-needed” basis.

How do people respond to anti-anxiety medications?
Anti-anxiety medications such as benzodiazepines are effective in relieving anxiety and take effect more quickly than the antidepressant medications (or buspirone) often prescribed for anxiety. However, people can build up a tolerance to benzodiazepines if they are taken over a long period of time and may need higher and higher doses to get the same effect. Some people may even become dependent on them. To avoid these problems, doctors usually prescribe benzodiazepines for short periods, a practice that is especially helpful for older adults (read the NIMH article: Despite Risks, Benzodiazepine Use Highest in Older People), people who have substance abuse problems and people who become dependent on medication easily. If people suddenly stop taking benzodiazepines, they may have withdrawal symptoms or their anxiety may return. Therefore, benzodiazepines should be tapered off slowly.

What are the possible side effects of anti-anxiety
Like other medications, anti-anxiety medications may cause side effects. Some of these side effects and risks are serious. The most common side effects for benzodiazepines are drowsiness and dizziness. Other possible side effects include:
 Nausea
 Blurred vision
 Headache
 Confusion
 Tiredness
 Nightmares

Tell your doctor if any of these symptoms are severe or do not go away:
 Drowsiness
 Dizziness
 Unsteadiness
 Problems with coordination
 Difficulty thinking or remembering
 Increased saliva
 Muscle or joint pain
 Frequent urination
 Blurred vision
 Changes in sex drive or ability (The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, Inc, 2010)

If you experience any of the symptoms below, call your doctor immediately:
 Rash
 Hives
 Swelling of the eyes, face, lips, tongue, or throat
 Difficulty breathing or swallowing
 Hoarseness
 Seizures
 Yellowing of the skin or eyes
 Depression
 Difficulty speaking
 Yellowing of the skin or eyes
 Thoughts of suicide or harming yourself
 Difficulty breathing

Common side effects of beta-blockers include:
 Fatigue
 Cold hands
 Dizziness or light-headedness
 Weakness

Beta-blockers generally are not recommended for people with asthma or diabetes because they may worsen symptoms related to both.

Possible side effects from buspirone include:
 Dizziness
 Headaches
 Nausea
 Nervousness
 Lightheadedness
 Excitement
 Trouble sleeping

Anti-anxiety medications may cause other side effects that are not included in the lists above. To report any serious adverse effects associated with the use of these medicines, please contact the FDA MedWatch program using the contact information at the bottom of this page. For more information about the risks and side effects for each medication, please see Drugs@FDA.



What are Stimulants?
As the name suggests, stimulants increase alertness, attention, and energy, as well as elevate blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2014). Stimulant medications are often prescribed to treat children, adolescents, or adults diagnosed with ADHD.

Stimulants used to treat ADHD include:
 Methylphenidate
 Amphetamine
 Dextroamphetamine
 Lisdexamfetamine Dimesylate

Note: In 2002, the FDA approved the non-stimulant medication atomoxetine for use as a treatment for ADHD. Two other non-stimulant antihypertensive medications, clonidine and guanfacine, are also approved for treatment of ADHD in children and adolescents. One of these non-stimulant medications is often tried first in a young person with ADHD, and if response is insufficient, then a stimulant is prescribed.

Stimulants are also prescribed to treat other health conditions, including narcolepsy, and occasionally depression (especially in older or chronically medically ill people and in those who have not responded to other treatments).

How do people respond to stimulants?
Prescription stimulants have a calming and “focusing” effect on individuals with ADHD. Stimulant medications are safe when given under a doctor's supervision. Some children taking them may feel slightly different or "funny."

Some parents worry that stimulant medications may lead to drug abuse or dependence, but there is little evidence of this when they are used properly as prescribed. Additionally, research shows that teens with ADHD who took stimulant medications were less likely to abuse drugs than those who did not take stimulant medications.

What are the possible side effects of stimulants?
Stimulants may cause side effects. Most side effects are minor and disappear when dosage levels are lowered. The most common side effects include:
 Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
 Loss of appetite
 Stomach pain
 Headache

Less common side effects include:
 Motor tics or verbal tics (sudden, repetitive movements or sounds)
 Personality changes, such as appearing “flat” or without emotion

Call your doctor right away if you have any of these symptoms, especially if they are new, become worse, or worry you.

Stimulants may cause other side effects that are not included in the list above. To report any serious adverse effects associated with the use of stimulants, please contact the FDA MedWatch program using the contact information at the bottom of this page. For more information about the risks and side effects for each medication, please see Drugs@FDA.


What are antipsychotics?
Antipsychotic medicines are primarily used to manage psychosis. The word “psychosis” is used to describe conditions that affect the mind, and in which there has been some loss of contact with reality, often including delusions (false, fixed beliefs) or hallucinations (hearing or seeing things that are not really there). It can be a symptom of a physical condition such as drug abuse or a mental disorder such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or very severe depression (also known as “psychotic depression”).
Antipsychotic medications are often used in combination with other medications to treat delirium, dementia, and mental health conditions, including:
• Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
• Severe Depression
• Eating Disorders
• Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
• Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
• Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Antipsychotic medicines do not cure these conditions. They are used to help relieve symptoms and improve quality of life.

Older or first-generation antipsychotic medications are also called conventional "typical" antipsychotics or “neuroleptics”. Some of the common typical antipsychotics include:
• Chlorpromazine • Haloperidol • Perphenazine • Fluphenazine

Newer or second generation medications are also called "atypical" antipsychotics. Some of the common atypical antipsychotics include:
• Risperidone • Olanzapine • Quetiapine • Ziprasidone • Aripiprazole • Paliperidone • Lurasidone

According to a 2013 research review by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, typical and atypical antipsychotics both work to treat symptoms of schizophrenia and the manic phase of bipolar disorder.

Several atypical antipsychotics have a “broader spectrum” of action than the older medications, and are used for treating bipolar depression or depression that has not responded to an antidepressant medication alone.

To find additional antipsychotics and other medications used to manage psychoses and current warnings and advisories, please visit the FDA website.

How do people respond to antipsychotics?
Certain symptoms, such as feeling agitated and having hallucinations, usually go away within days of starting an antipsychotic medication. Symptoms like delusions usually go away within a few weeks, but the full effects of the medication may not be seen for up to six weeks. Every patient responds differently, so it may take several trials of different antipsychotic medications to find the one that works best.

Some people may have a relapse—meaning their symptoms come back or get worse. Usually relapses happen when people stop taking their medication, or when they only take it sometimes. Some people stop taking the medication because they feel better or they may feel that they don't need it anymore, but no one should stop taking an antipsychotic medication without talking to his or her doctor.When a doctor says it is okay to stop taking a medication, it should be gradually tapered off— never stopped suddenly. Many people must stay on an antipsychotic continuously for months or years in order to stay well; treatment should be personalized for each individual.

What are the possible side effects of antipsychotics?
Antipsychotics have many side effects (or adverse events) and risks. The FDA lists the following side effects of antipsychotic medicines:
• Drowsiness
• Dizziness
• Restlessness
• Weight gain (the risk is higher with some atypical antipsychotic medicines)
• Dry mouth
• Constipation
• Nausea
• Vomiting
• Blurred vision
• Low blood pressure
• Uncontrollable movements, such as tics and tremors (the risk is higher with typical antipsychotic medicines)
• Seizures

• A low number of white blood cells, which fight infections

A person taking an atypical antipsychotic medication should have his or her weight, glucose levels, and lipid levels monitored regularly by a doctor.

Typical antipsychotic medications can also cause additional side effects related to physical movement, such as:
• Rigidity • Persistent muscle spasms • Tremors • Restlessness

Long-term use of typical antipsychotic medications may lead to a condition called tardive dyskinesia (TD). TD causes muscle movements, commonly around the mouth, that a person can't control. TD can range from mild to severe, and in some people, the problem cannot be cured. Sometimes people with TD recover partially or fully after they stop taking typical antipsychotic medication. People who think that they might have TD should check with their doctor before stopping their medication. TD rarely occurs while taking atypical antipsychotics.

Antipsychotics may cause other side effects that are not included in this list above. To report any serious adverse effects associated with the use of these medicines, please contact the FDA MedWatch program. For more information about the risks and side effects for antipsychotic medications, please visit Drugs@FDA.


Mood Stabilizers

What are mood stabilizers?
Mood stabilizers are used primarily to treat bipolar disorder, mood swings associated with other mental disorders, and in some cases, to augment the effect of other medications used to treat depression. Lithium, which is aneffective mood stabilizer, is approved for the treatment of mania and the maintenance treatment of bipolar disorder. A number of cohort studies describe anti-suicide benefits of lithium for individuals on long-term maintenance. Mood stabilizers work by decreasing abnormal activity in the brain and are also sometimes used to treat:

• Depression (usually along with an antidepressant)
• Schizoaffective Disorder
• Disorders of impulse control
• Certain mental illnesses in children

Anticonvulsant medications are also used as mood stabilizers. They were originally developed to treat seizures, but they were found to help control unstable moods as well. One anticonvulsant commonly used as a mood stabilizer is valproic acid (also called divalproex sodium). For some people, especially those with “mixed” symptoms of mania and depression or those with rapid-cycling bipolar disorder, valproic acid may work better than lithium. Other anticonvulsants used as mood stabilizers include:

• Carbamazepine
• Lamotrigine
• Oxcarbazepine

What are the possible side effects of mood stabilizers?
Mood stabilizers can cause several side effects, and some of them may become serious, especially at excessively high blood levels. These side effects include:
• Itching, rash
• Excessive thirst
• Frequent urination
• Tremor (shakiness) of the hands
• Nausea and vomiting
• Slurred speech
• Fast, slow, irregular, or pounding heartbeat
• Blackouts
• Changes in vision
• Seizures
• Hallucinations (seeing things or hearing voices that do not exist)
• Loss of coordination
• Swelling of the eyes, face, lips, tongue, throat, hands, feet, ankles, or lower legs.

If a person with bipolar disorder is being treated with lithium, he or she should visit the doctor regularly to check the lithium levels his or her blood, and make sure the kidneys and the thyroid are working normally.

Lithium is eliminated from the body through the kidney, so the dose may need to be lowered in older people with reduced kidney function. Also, loss of water from the body, such as through sweating or diarrhea, can cause the lithium level to rise, requiring a temporary lowering of the daily dose. Although kidney functions are checked periodically during lithium treatment, actual damage of the kidney is uncommon in people whose blood levels of lithium have stayed within the therapeutic range.

Mood stabilizers may cause other side effects that are not included in this list. To report any serious adverse effects associated with the use of these medicines, please contact the FDA MedWatch program using the contact information at the bottom of this page. For more information about the risks and side effects for each individual medication, please see Drugs@FDA.

For more information on the side effects of Carbamazepine, Lamotrigine, and Oxcarbazepine, please visit MedlinePlus Drugs, Herbs and Supplements.

Some possible side effects linked anticonvulsants (such as valproic acid) include:
• Drowsiness
• Dizziness
• Headache
• Diarrhea
• Constipation
• Changes in appetite
• Weight changes
• Back pain
• Agitation
• Mood swings
• Abnormal thinking
• Uncontrollable shaking of a part of the body
• Loss of coordination
• Uncontrollable movements of the eyes
• Blurred or double vision
• Ringing in the ears
• Hair loss

These medications may also:
• Cause damage to the liver or pancreas, so people taking it should see their doctors regularly
• Increase testosterone (a male hormone) levels in teenage girls and lead to a condition called polycystic ovarian syndrome (a disease that can affect fertility and make the menstrual cycle become irregular)

Medications for common adult health problems, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, anxiety, and depression may interact badly with anticonvulsants. In this case, a doctor can offer other medication options.

For more information about the risks and side effects for each medication, please see Drugs@FDA.

Special Groups: Children, Older Adults, Pregnant Women

All types of people take psychiatric medications, but some groups have special needs, including:
• Children and adolescents
• Older adults
• Women who are pregnant or who may become pregnant

Children and Adolescents
Many medications used to treat children and adolescents with mental illness are safe and effective. However, some medications have not been studied or approved for use with children or adolescents.

Still, a doctor can give a young person an FDA-approved medication on an "off-label" basis. This means that the doctor prescribes the medication to help the patient even though the medicine is not approved for the specific mental disorder that is being treated or for use by patients under a certain age. Remember:
• It is important to watch children and adolescents who take these medications on an "off-label" basis.
• Children may have different reactions and side effects than adults.
• Some medications have current FDA warnings about potentially dangerous side effects for younger patients.

In addition to medications, other treatments for children and adolescents should be considered, either to be tried first, with medication added later if necessary, or to be provided along with medication. Psychotherapy, family therapy, educational courses, and behavior management techniques can help everyone involved cope with disorders that affect a child’s mental health. Read more about child and adolescent mental health research.

Older Adults
People over 65 have to be careful when taking medications, especially when they’re taking many different drugs. Older adults have a higher risk for experiencing bad drug interactions, missing doses, or overdosing.

Older adults also tend to be more sensitive to medications. Even healthy older people react to medications differently than younger people because older people's bodies process and eliminate medications more slowly. Therefore, lower or less frequent doses may be needed for older adults. Before starting a medication, older people and their family members should talk carefully with a physician about whether a medication can affect alertness, memory, or coordination, and how to help ensure that prescribed medications do not increase the risk of falls.

Sometimes memory problems affect older people who take medications for mental disorders. An older adult may forget his or her regular dose and take too much or not enough. A good way to keep track of medicine is to use a seven-day pill box, which can be bought at any pharmacy. At the beginning of each week, older adults and their caregivers fill the box so that it is easy to remember what medicine to take. Many pharmacies also have pill boxes with sections for medications that must be taken more than once a day.

For more information and practical tips to help older people take their medicines safely, please see National Institute on Aging’s Safe Use of Medicines booklet and Taking Medicines on
Women who are pregnant or who may become pregnant
The research on the use of psychiatric medications during pregnancy is limited. The risks are different depending on which medication is taken, and at what point during the pregnancy the medication is taken. Decisions on treatments for all conditions during pregnancy should be based on each woman's needs and circumstances, and based on a careful weighing of the likely benefits and risks of all available options, including psychotherapy (or “watchful waiting” during part or all of the pregnancy), medication, or a combination of the two. While no medication is considered perfectly safe for all women at all stages of pregnancy, this must be balanced for each woman against the fact that untreated serious mental disorders themselves can pose a risk to a pregnant woman and her developing fetus. Medications should be selected based on available scientific research, and they should be taken at the lowest possible dose. Pregnant women should have a medical professional who will watch them closely throughout their pregnancy and after delivery.

Most women should avoid certain medications during pregnancy. For example:
• Mood stabilizers are known to cause birth defects. Benzodiazepines and lithium have been shown to cause "floppy baby syndrome," in which a baby is drowsy and limp, and cannot breathe or feed well. Benzodiazepines may cause birth defects or other infant problems, especially if taken during the first trimester.
• According to research, taking antipsychotic medications during pregnancy can lead to birth defects, especially if they are taken during the first trimester and in combination with other drugs, but the risks vary widely and depend on the type of antipsychotic taken. The conventional antipsychotic haloperidol has been studied more than others, and has been found not to cause birth defects. Research on the newer atypical antipsychotics is ongoing.

Antidepressants, especially SSRIs, are considered to be safe during pregnancy. However, antidepressant medications do cross the placental barrier and may reach the fetus. Birth defects or other problems are possible, but they are very rare. The effects of antidepressants on childhood development remain under study.

Studies have also found that fetuses exposed to SSRIs during the third trimester may be born with "withdrawal" symptoms such as breathing problems, jitteriness, irritability, trouble feeding, or hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Most studies have found that these symptoms in babies are generally mild and short-lived, and no deaths have been reported. Risks from the use of antidepressants need to be balanced with the risks of stopping medication; if a mother is too depressed to care for herself and her child, both may be at risk for problems.

In 2004, the FDA issued a warning against the use of certain antidepressants in the late third trimester. The warning said that doctors may want to gradually taper pregnant women off antidepressants in the third trimester so that the baby is not affected. After a woman delivers, she should consult with her doctor to decide whether to return to a full dose during the period when she is most vulnerable to postpartum depression.

After the baby is born, women and their doctors should watch for postpartum depression, especially if a mother stopped taking her medication during pregnancy. In addition, women who nurse while taking psychiatric medications should know that a small amount of the medication passes into the breast milk. However, the medication may or may not affect the baby depending s on the medication and when it is taken. Women taking psychiatric medications and who intend to breastfeed should discuss the potential risks and benefits with their doctors.



Mental Health Medications

Medications are used to treat the symptoms of mental disorders such as schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder (sometimes called manic-depressive illness), anxiety disorders, and attention deficithyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Sometimes medications are used with other treatments such as psychotherapy. This guide describes: Types of medications used to treat mental disorders Side effects of medications Directions for taking medications Warnings about medications from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

What medications are used to treat schizophrenia?

Antipsychotic medications are used to treat schizophrenia and schizophrenia-related disorders. Some of these medications have been available since the mid-1950’s. They are also called conventional “typical” antipsychotics.

Someof the more commonly used medications include:
• Chlorpromazine (Thorazine)
• Haloperidol (Haldol)
• Perphenazine (generic only)
• Fluphenazine (generic only).

In the 1990’s, new antipsychotic medications were developed. These new medications are called second generation, or “atypical” antipsychotics.

One of these medications was clozapine (Clozaril). It is a very effective medication that treats psychotic symptoms, hallucinations, and breaks with reality, such as when a person believes he or she is the president. But clozapine can sometimes cause a serious problem called agranulocytosis, which is a loss of the white blood cells that help a person fight infection. Therefore, people who take clozapine must get their white blood cell counts checked every week or two. This problem and the cost of blood tests make treatment with clozapine difficult for many people. Still, clozapine is potentially helpful for people who do not respond to other antipsychotic medications.

Other atypical antipsychotics were developed. All of them are effective, and none cause agranulocytosis.
These include:
• Risperidone (Risperdal)
• Olanzapine (Zyprexa)
• Quetiapine (Seroquel)
• Ziprasidone (Geodon)
• Aripiprazole (Abilify)
• Paliperidone (Invega).

What are the side effects?
How are antipsychotics taken and how do people respond to them?
How do antipsychotics interact with other medications?

What medications are used to treat depression?

Depression is commonly treated with antidepressant medications. Antidepressants work to balance some of the natural chemicals in our brains. These chemicals are called neurotransmitters, and they affect our mood and emotional responses. Antidepressants work on neurotransmitters such as serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine.

The most popular types of antidepressants are called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
These include:
• Fluoxetine (Prozac)
• Citalopram (Celexa)
• Sertraline (Zoloft)
• Paroxetine (Paxil)
• Escitalopram (Lexapro).

Other types of antidepressants are serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). SNRIs are similar to SSRIs and include venlafaxine (Effexor) and duloxetine (Cymbalta). Another antidepressant that is commonly used is bupropion (Wellbutrin). Bupropion, which works on the neurotransmitter dopamine, is unique in that it does not fit into any specific drug type.

SSRIs and SNRIs are popular because they do not cause as many side effects as older classes of antidepressants. Older antidepressant medications include tricyclics, tetracyclics, and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). For some people, tricyclics, tetracyclics, or MAOIs may be the best medications.

What are the side effects?
How should antidepressants be taken?
Are herbal medicines used to treat depression?
FDA warning on antidepressants


RISPERDAL (risperidone)

RISPERDAL® contains risperidone, an atypical antipsychotic belonging to the chemical class of benzisoxazole derivatives.

RISPERDAL® Tablets are for oral administration and available in 0.25 mg (dark yellow), 0.5 mg (red-brown), 1 mg (white), 2 mg (orange), 3 mg (yellow), and 4 mg (green) strengths.
RISPERDAL® is also available as a 1 mg/mL oral solution.
RISPERDAL® M-TAB® Orally Disintegrating Tablets are available in 0.5 mg (light coral), 1 mg (light coral), 2 mg (coral), 3 mg (coral), and 4 mg (coral) strengths.


RISPERDAL® (risperidone) is indicated for the treatment of schizophrenia. Efficacy was established in 4 short-term trials in adults, 2 short-term trials in adolescents (ages 13 to 17 years), and one long-term maintenance trial in adults [see Clinical Studies].

Bipolar Mania
RISPERDAL® is indicated for the treatment of acute manic or mixed episodes associated with Bipolar I Disorder. Efficacy was established in 2 short-term trials in adults and one short-term trial in children and adolescents (ages 10 to 17 years) [see Clinical Studies].
Adjunctive Therapy
RISPERDAL® adjunctive therapy with lithium or valproate is indicated for the treatment of acute manic or mixed episodes associated with Bipolar I Disorder. Efficacy was established in one short-term trial in adults [see Clinical Studies].

Irritability Associated With Autistic Disorder
RISPERDAL® is indicated for the treatment of irritability associated with autistic disorder, including symptoms of aggression towards others, deliberate self-injuriousness, temper tantrums, and quickly changing moods. Efficacy was established in 3 short-term trials in children and adolescents (ages 5 to 17 years) [see Clinical Studies].

Recommended Daily Dosage by Indication

ABILIFY (aripiprazole)|

What is ABILIFY for?
Use as an add-on treatment for adults with Major Depressive Disorder when an antidepressant alone is not enough
Treatment of manic or mixed episodes associated with Bipolar I Disorder in adults and pediatric patients 10 to 17 years of age
Treatment of schizophrenia in adults and in adolescents 13 to 17 years of age
Treatment of irritability associated with autistic patients 6 to 17 years of age
Treatment of Tourette's Disorder in pediatric patients 6 to 18 years of age


What medications are used to treat bipolar disorder?

Bipolar disorder, also called manicdepressive illness, is commonly treated with mood stabilizers. Sometimes, antipsychotics and antidepressants are used along with a mood stabilizer.

Mood stabilizers
People with bipolar disorder usually try mood stabilizers first. In general, people continue treatment with mood stabilizers for years. Lithium is a very effective mood stabilizer. It was the first mood stabilizer approved by the FDA in the 1970’s for treating both manic and depressive episodes.

Anticonvulsant medications also are used as mood stabilizers. They were originally developed to treat seizures, but they were found to help control moods as well.
One anticonvulsant commonly used as a mood stabilizer is valproic acid, also called divalproex sodium (Depakote). For some people, it may work better than lithium.
Other anticonvulsants used as mood stabilizers are carbamazepine (Tegretol), lamotrigine (Lamictal) and oxcarbazepine (Trileptal).

Atypical antipsychotics Atypical antipsychotic medications are sometimes used to treat symptoms of bipolar disorder. Often, antipsychotics are used along with other medications.

Antipsychotics used to treat people with bipolar disorder include:
• Olanzapine (Zyprexa), which helps people with severe or psychotic depression, which often is accompanied by a break with reality, hallucinations, or delusions
• Aripiprazole (Abilify), which can be taken as a pill or as a shot
• Risperidone (Risperdal)
• Ziprasidone (Geodon)
• Clozapine (Clorazil), which is often used for people who do not respond to lithium or anticonvulsants.

Antidepressants Antidepressants are sometimes used to treat symptoms of depression in bipolar disorder. Fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), or sertraline (Zoloft) are a few that are used. However, people with bipolar disorder should not take an antidepressant on its own. Doing so can cause the person to rapidly switch from depression to mania, which can be dangerous.
To prevent this problem, doctors give patients a mood stabilizer or an antipsychotic along with an antidepressant.

Research on whether antidepressants help people with bipolar depression is mixed. An NIMHfunded study found that antidepressants were no more effective than a placebo to help treat depression in people with bipolar disorder. The people were taking mood stabilizers along with the antidepressants. You can find out more about this study, called STEP-BD (Systematic Treatment Enhancement Program for Bipolar Disorder), here

What are the side effects?
How should medications for bipolar disorder be taken?

What medications are used to treat anxiety disorders?

Antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, and beta-blockers are the most common medications used for anxiety disorders.

Anxiety disorders include:
• Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
• Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
• Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
• Panic disorder
• Social phobia.

Antidepressants were developed to treat depression, but they also help people with anxiety disorders. SSRIs such as fluoxetine (Prozac), sertraline (Zoloft), escitalopram (Lexapro), paroxetine (Paxil), and citalopram (Celexa) are commonly prescribed for panic disorder, OCD, PTSD, and social phobia. The SNRI venlafaxine (Effexor) is commonly used to treat GAD. The antidepressant bupropion (Wellbutrin) is also sometimes used. When treating anxiety disorders, antidepressants generally are started at low doses and increased over time.

Some tricyclic antidepressants work well for anxiety. For example, imipramine (Tofranil) is prescribed for panic disorder and GAD. Clomipramine (Anafranil) is used to treat OCD. Tricyclics are also started at low doses and increased over time.

MAOIs are also used for anxiety disorders. Doctors sometimes prescribe phenelzine (Nardil), tranylcypromine (Parnate), and isocarboxazid (Marplan). People who take MAOIs must avoid certain food and medicines that can interact with their medicine and cause dangerous increases in blood pressure. For more information, see the section on medications used to treat depression.

Benzodiazepines (anti-anxiety medications)
The anti-anxiety medications called benzodiazepines can start working more quickly than antidepressants. The ones used to treat anxiety disorders include:
• Clonazepam (Klonopin), which is used for social phobia and GAD
• Lorazepam (Ativan), which is used for panic disorder
• Alprazolam (Xanax), which is used for panic disorder and GAD.

Buspirone (Buspar) is an anti-anxiety medication used to treat GAD. Unlike benzodiazepines, however, it takes at least two weeks for buspirone to begin working.
Clonazepam, listed above, is an anticonvulsant medication. See FDA warning on anticonvulsants under the bipolar disorder section.

Beta-blockers Beta-blockers control some of the physical symptoms of anxiety, such as trembling and sweating. Propranolol (Inderal) is a beta-blocker usually used to treat heart conditions and high blood pressure. The medicine also helps people who have physical problems related to anxiety. For example, when a person with social phobia must face a stressful situation, such as giving a speech, or attending an important meeting, a doctor may prescribe a beta-blocker. Taking the medicine for a short period of time can help the person keep physical symptoms under control.

What are the side effects?
How should medications for anxiety disorders be taken?


What medications are used to treat ADHD?

Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) occurs in both children and adults.
ADHD is commonly treated with stimulants, such as:
• Methylphenidate (Ritalin, Metadate, Concerta, Daytrana)
• Amphetamine (Adderall)
• Dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine, Dextrostat).

In 2002, the FDA approved the nonstimulant medication atomoxetine (Strattera) for use as a treatment for ADHD.
In February 2007, the FDA approved the use of the stimulant lisdexamfetamine dimesylate (Vyvanse) for the treatment of ADHD in children ages 6 to 12 years.

What are the side effects?
How are ADHD medications taken?
Are ADHD medications safe?
FDA warning on possible rare side effects

Which groups have special needs when taking psychiatric medications?

Psychiatric medications are taken by all types of people, but some groups have special needs, including:

• Children and adolescents

• Older adults

• Women who are pregnant or may become pregnant.



Clinical Practice Guidelines

APA practice guidelines provide evidence-based recommendations for the assessment and treatment of psychiatric disorders and are intended to assist in clinical decision making by presenting systematically developed patient care strategies in a standardized format.



Treatment of Children with Mental Illness


Research shows that half of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14. Scientists are discovering that changes in the body leading to mental illness may start much earlier, before any symptoms appear.

Through greater understanding of when and how fast specific areas of children's brains develop, we are learning more about the early stages of a wide range of mental illnesses that appear later in life. Helping young children and their parents manage difficulties early in life may prevent the development of disorders. Once mental illness develops, it becomes a regular part of your child's behavior and more difficult to treat. Even though we know how to treat (though not yet cure) many disorders, many children with mental illnesses are not getting treatment.

This fact sheet addresses common questions about diagnosis and treatment options for children with mental illnesses. Disorders affecting children may include anxiety disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum disorders, bipolar disorder, depression, eating disorders, and schizophrenia.

Q. What should I do if I am concerned about mental, behavioral, or emotional symptoms in my child?
A. Talk to your child's doctor or health care provider. Ask questions and learn everything you can about the behavior or symptoms that worry you. If your child is in school ask the teacher if your child has been showing worrisome changes in behavior. Share this with your child's doctor or health care provider. Keep in mind that every child is different. Even normal development, such as when children develop language, motor, and social skills, varies from child to child. Ask if your child needs further evaluation by a specialist with experience in child behavioral problems. Specialists may include psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, psychiatric nurses, and behavioral therapists. Educators may also help evaluate your child.

If you take your child to a specialist, ask, "Do you have experience treating the problems I see in my child?" Don't be afraid to interview more than one specialist to find the right fit. Continue to learn everything you can about the problem or diagnosis. The more you learn, the better you can work with your child's doctor and make decisions that feel right for you, your child, and your family.

Q. How do I know if my child's problems are serious?
A. Not every problem is serious. In fact, many everyday stresses can cause changes in your child's behavior. For example, the birth of a sibling may cause a child to temporarily act much younger than he or she is. It is important to be able to tell the difference between typical behavior changes and those associated with more serious problems. Pay special attention to behaviors that include:
• Problems across a variety of settings, such as at school, at home, or with peers
• Changes in appetite or sleep
• Social withdrawal, or fearful behavior toward things your child normally is not afraid of
• Returning to behaviors more common in younger children, such as bed-wetting, for a long time
• Signs of being upset, such as sadness or tearfulness
• Signs of self-destructive behavior, such as head-banging, or a tendency to get hurt often
• Repeated thoughts of death.

Q. Can symptoms be caused by a death in the family, illness in a parent, family financial problems, divorce, or other events?
A. Yes. Every member of a family is affected by tragedy or extreme stress, even the youngest child. It's normal for stress to cause a child to be upset. Remember this if you see mental, emotional, or behavioral symptoms in your child. If it takes more than one month for your child to get used to a situation, or if your child has severe reactions, talk to your child's doctor.

Check your child's response to stress. Take note if he or she gets better with time or if professional care is needed. Stressful events are challenging, but they give you a chance to teach your child important ways to cope.

Q. How are mental illnesses diagnosed in young children?
A. Just like adults, children with mental illness are diagnosed after a doctor or mental health specialist carefully observes signs and symptoms. Some primary care physicians can diagnose your child themselves, but many will send you to a specialist who can diagnose and treat children.

Before diagnosing a mental illness, the doctor or specialist tries to rule out other possible causes for your child's behavior. The doctor will:
• Take a history of any important medical problems
• Take a history of the problem - how long you have seen the problem - as well as a history of your child's development
• Take a family history of mental disorders
• Ask if the child has experienced physical or psychological traumas, such as a natural disaster, or situations that may cause stress, such as a death in the family
• Consider reports from parents and other caretakers or teachers.

Very young children often cannot express their thoughts and feelings, so making a diagnosis can be challenging. The signs of a mental illness in a young child may be quite different from those in an older child or adult.

As parents and caregivers know, children are constantly changing and growing. Diagnosis and treatment must be viewed with these changes in mind. While some problems are short-lived and don't need treatment, others are ongoing and may be very serious. In either case, more information will help you understand treatment choices and manage the disorder or problem most effectively.

While diagnosing mental health problems in young children can be challenging, it is important. A diagnosis can be used to guide treatment and link your child's care to research on children with similar problems.

Q. Will my child get better with time?
A. Some children get better with time. But other children need ongoing professional help. Talk to your child's doctor or specialist about problems that are severe, continuous, and affect daily activities. Also, don't delay seeking help. Treatment may produce better results if started early.

Q. Are there treatment options for children?
A. Yes. Once a diagnosis is made, your child's specialist will recommend a specific treatment. It is important to understand the various treatment choices, which often include psychotherapy or medication. Talk about the options with a health care professional who has experience treating the illness observed in your child. Some treatment choices have been studied experimentally, and other treatments are a part of health care practice. In addition, not every community has every type of service or program.

Q. What are psychotropic medications?
A. Psychotropic medications are substances that affect brain chemicals related to mood and behavior. In recent years, research has been conducted to understand the benefits and risks of using psychotropics in children. Still, more needs to be learned about the effects of psychotropics, especially in children under six years of age. While researchers are trying to clarify how early treatment affects a growing body, families and doctors should weigh the benefits and risks of medication. Each child has individual needs, and each child needs to be monitored closely while taking medications.

Q. Are there treatments other than medications?
A. Yes. Psychosocial therapies can be very effective alone and in combination with medications. Psychosocial therapies are also called "talk therapies" or "behavioral therapy," and they help people with mental illness change behavior. Therapies that teach parents and children coping strategies can also be effective.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy that can be used with children. It has been widely studied and is an effective treatment for a number of conditions, such as depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and social anxiety. A person in CBT learns to change distorted thinking patterns and unhealthy behavior. Children can receive CBT with or without their parents, as well as in a group setting. CBT can be adapted to fit the needs of each child. It is especially useful when treating anxiety disorders.

Additionally, therapies for ADHD are numerous and include behavioral parent training and behavioral classroom management. Visit the NIMH Web site for more information about therapies for ADHD.

Some children benefit from a combination of different psychosocial approaches. An example is behavioral parent management training in combination with CBT for the child. In other cases, a combination of medication and psychosocial therapies may be most effective. Psychosocial therapies often take time, effort, and patience. However, sometimes children learn new skills that may have positive long-term benefits.

More information about treatment choices can be found in the psychotherapies and medications sections of the NIMH Web site.

Q. When is it a good idea to use psychotropic medications in young children?
A. When the benefits of treatment outweigh the risks, psychotropic medications may be prescribed. Some children need medication to manage severe and difficult problems. Without treatment, these children would suffer serious or dangerous consequences. In addition, psychosocial treatments may not always be effective by themselves. In some instances, however, they can be quite effective when combined with medication.

Ask your doctor questions about the risks of starting and continuing your child on these medications. Learn everything you can about the medications prescribed for your child. Learn about possible side effects, some of which may be harmful. Know what a particular treatment is supposed to do. For example, will it change a specific behavior? If you do not see these changes while your child is taking the medication, talk to his or her doctor. Also, discuss the risks of stopping your child's medication with your doctor.

Q. Does medication affect young children differently than older children or adults?
A. Yes. Young children handle medications differently than older children and adults. The brains of young children change and develop rapidly. Studies have found that developing brains can be very sensitive to medications. There are also developmental differences in how children metabolize - how their bodies process - medications. Therefore, doctors should carefully consider the dosage or how much medication to give each child. Much more research is needed to determine the effects and benefits of medications in children of all ages. But keep in mind that serious untreated mental disorders themselves can harm brain development.

Also, it is important to avoid drug interactions. If your child takes medicine for asthma or cold symptoms, talk to your doctor or pharmacist. Drug interactions could cause medications to not work as intended or lead to serious side effects.

Q. How should medication be included in an overall treatment plan?
A. Medication should be used with other treatments. It should not be the only treatment. Consider other services, such as family therapy, family support services, educational classes, and behavior management techniques. If your child's doctor prescribes medication, he or she should evaluate your child regularly to make sure the medication is working. Children need treatment plans tailored to their individual problems and needs.

Q. What medications are used for which kinds of childhood mental disorders?
A. Psychotropic medications include stimulants, antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, antipsychotics, and mood stabilizers. Dosages approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in children depend on body weight and age. NIMH's medications booklet describes the types of psychotropic medications and includes a chart that lists the ages for which each medication is FDA-approved. See the FDA Web site for the latest information on medication approvals, warnings, and patient information guides.

Q. What does it mean if a medication is specifically approved for use in children?
A. When the FDA approves a medication, it means the drug manufacturer provided the agency with information showing the medication is safe and effective in a particular group of people. Based on this information, the drug's label lists proper dosage, potential side effects, and approved age. Medications approved for children follow these guidelines.

Many psychotropic medications have not been studied in children, which means they have not been approved by the FDA for use in children. But doctors may prescribe medications as they feel appropriate, even if those uses are not included on the label. This is called "off-label" use. Research shows that off-label use of some medications works well in some children. Other medications need more study in children. In particular, the use of most psychotropic medications has not been adequately studied in preschoolers.

More studies in children are needed before we can fully know the appropriate dosages, how a medication works in children, and what effects a medication might have on learning and development.

Q. Why haven't many medications been tested in children?
A. In the past, medications were seldom studied in children because mental illness was not recognized in childhood. Also, there were ethical concerns about involving children in research. This led to a lack of knowledge about the best treatments for children. In clinical settings today, children with mental or behavioral disorders are being prescribed medications at increasingly early ages. The FDA has been urging that medications be appropriately studied in children, and Congress passed legislation in 1997 offering incentives to drug manufacturers to carry out such testing. These activities have helped increase research on the effects of medications in children.

There still are ethical concerns about testing medications in children. However, strict rules protect participants in research studies. Each study must go through many types of review before, and after it begins.

Q. How do I work with my child's school?
A. If your child is having problems in school, or if a teacher raises concerns, you can work with the school to find a solution. You may ask the school to conduct an evaluation to determine whether your child qualifies for special education services. However, not all children diagnosed with a mental illness qualify for these services.

Start by speaking with your child's teacher, school counselor, school nurse, or the school's parent organization. These professionals can help you get an evaluation started. Also, each state has a Parent Training and Information Center and a Protection and Advocacy Agency that can help you request the evaluation. The evaluation must be conducted by a team of professionals who assess all areas related to the suspected disability using a variety of tools and measures.

Q. What resources are available from the school?
A. Once your child has been evaluated, there are several options for him or her, depending on the specific needs. If special education services are needed, and if your child is eligible under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the school district must develop an "individualized education program" specifically for your child within 30 days.

If your child is not eligible for special education services, he or she is still entitled to "free appropriate public education," available to all public school children with disabilities under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Your child is entitled to this regardless of the nature or severity of his or her disability.

The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights enforces Section 504 in programs and activities that receive Federal education funds. Visit programs for children with disabilities for more information.

Q. What special challenges can school present?
A. Each school year brings a new teacher and new schoolwork. This change can be difficult for some children. Inform the teachers that your child has a mental illness when he or she starts school or moves to a new class. Additional support will help your child adjust to the change.

Q. What else can I do to help my child?
A.Children with mental illness need guidance and understanding from their parents and teachers. This support can help your child achieve his or her full potential and succeed in school. Before a child is diagnosed, frustration, blame, and anger may have built up within a family. Parents and children may need special help to undo these unhealthy interaction patterns. Mental health professionals can counsel the child and family to help everyone develop new skills, attitudes, and ways of relating to each other.

Parents can also help by taking part in parenting skills training. This helps parents learn how to handle difficult situations and behaviors. Training encourages parents to share a pleasant or relaxing activity with their child, to notice and point out what their child does well, and to praise their child's strengths and abilities. Parents may also learn to arrange family situations in more positive ways. Also, parents may benefit from learning stress-management techniques to help them deal with frustration and respond calmly to their child's behavior.

Sometimes, the whole family may need counseling. Therapists can help family members find better ways to handle disruptive behaviors and encourage behavior changes. Finally, support groups help parents and families connect with others who have similar problems and concerns. Groups often meet regularly to share frustrations and successes, to exchange information about recommended specialists and strategies, and to talk with experts.

Q. How can families of children with mental illness get support?
A. Like other serious illnesses, taking care of a child with mental illness is hard on the parents, family, and other caregivers. Caregivers often must tend to the medical needs of their loved ones, and also deal with how it affects their own health. The stress that caregivers are under may lead to missed work or lost free time. It can strain relationships with people who may not understand the situation and lead to physical and mental exhaustion.

Stress from caregiving can make it hard to cope with your child's symptoms. One study shows that if a caregiver is under enormous stress, his or her loved one has more difficulty sticking to the treatment plan. It is important to look after your own physical and mental health. You may also find it helpful to join a local support group.

Q. Where can I go for help?
A. If you are unsure where to go for help, ask your family doctor. Others who can help are listed below.
• Mental health specialists, such as psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, or mental health counselors
• Health maintenance organizations
• Community mental health centers
• Hospital psychiatry departments and outpatient clinics
• Mental health programs at universities or medical schools
• State hospital outpatient clinics
• Family services, social agencies, or clergy
• Peer support groups
• Private clinics and facilities
• Employee assistance programs
• Local medical and/or psychiatric societies.

You can also check the phone book under "mental health," "health," "social services," "hotlines," or "physicians" for phone numbers and addresses. An emergency room doctor can also provide temporary help and can tell you where and how to get further help.

More information on mental health is at the NIMH Web site. For the latest information on medications, see the U.S. Food and Drug Administration website.