Why are medications used to treat mental and behavioral health disorders?

According to The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), “Psychiatric medications treat mental disorders. Sometimes called psychotropic or psychotherapeutic medications, they have changed the lives of people with mental disorders for the better. Many people with mental disorders live fulfilling lives with the help of these medications. Without them, people with mental disorders might suffer serious and disabling symptoms.” NIMH explains, “Medications treat the symptoms of mental disorders. They cannot cure the disorder, but they make people feel better so they can function.”

Certified Nurse Practitioner and psychiatric specialist Sarah Alley says, “Med management is part of an overall picture. Often, when kids are admitted into residential treatment or for acute hospitalization, there is a long history of events, signs and symptoms, experiences and behaviors that have led to these types of in-patient treatment. There may be environmental reasons, trauma, and/or significant psychiatric symptoms.” 

According to psychiatrist, Dr. Kasiraja Sathappan, Medical Director,  “It’s important to do a thorough psychiatric evaluation and determine how it all fits together; how the patient has progressed to this point of treatment.  Medications are an important piece in the whole treatment and frequently, medications are a most beneficial way to stabilize a child and allow them to get to a place where they can engage in treatment, be able to process therapeutic intervention, begin to learn and implement coping skills, and to have hope.”

To use a helpful analogy, Alley explains,  “For example, a very depressed patient sees the world through the fog of depression and this experience can be like looking out at life through a muddy window without a way to clear the view. Providing them relief with medication can allow them to see more clearly, remove the mud from the “window” so to speak.  It gives them the ability to benefit fully from treatment and see more clearly where they are going and why.”  Alley recently joined Pomegranate from Nationwide Children’s Hospital. 

The NIMH web-site explains, ‘Some people get great results from medications and only need them for a short time. For example, a person with depression may feel much better after taking a medication for a few months, and may never need it again. People with disorders like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, or people who have long-term or severe depression or anxiety may need to take medication for a much longer time.’

‘For example, anti-psychotic medication used to treat schizophrenia and schizophrenia-related disorders have been available since the mid-1950’s. In the 1990’s, new anti-psychotic medications were developed, called second generation, or ‘atypical’ antipsychotics,’ according to NIMH. ‘There are several classes of medication for different conditions: anti-psychotic, anti-depressant, mood stabilizing and anti-convulsant, anti-anxiety, ADHD medications, combination antipsychotic and antidepressant, and other combinations.’ You can read more about these types of medications at: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/mental-health-medications/complete-index.sht

Some parents question whether medication is necessary, after all, ‘it’s all in the head.’ Alley explains that, ‘What’s in the head is a brain. Think of it like a liver, heart, or kidney. Prescribing medication for that organ is no different. The brain is a complex organ with various things that can be out-of-balance or not work as they should at times, including an imbalance of neurotransmitters or over/under activity in certain areas.

That doesn’t mean something is “wrong” with the person, that they are “weak” or insufficient in some personal way. We don’t say the diabetic doesn’t need insulin when their endocrine system malfunctions because the problem is in the glands, or they are somehow deficient as a person because they cannot control their blood sugars by “willpower”. With good treatment early, including appropriate medication, one can prevent problems in the future, prevent relapse, severity and length of future episodes and preserve brain functioning.’ 

The NIMH site says, ‘Some people may have a relapse-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 they don’t need it anymore. But no one should stop taking an anti-psychotic 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.’

NIMH also reports that for children and adolescents, ‘Most medications used to treat young people with mental illness are safe and effective. . . In addition to medications, other treatments for young people with mental disorders should be considered. Psychotherapy, family therapy, educational courses, and behavior management techniques can help everyone involved cope with the disorder.”

Dr. Sathappan, Medical Director adds, ‘This is why Pomegranate Health Systems uses a multi-disciplinary approach including complete diagnostic and psychiatric evaluation, with the full complement of therapeutic psychological and medical interventions required for a thorough treatment plan. We talk with patients and family members to explain and explore what we’re doing and why, to help each individual achieve the highest possible quality of life in their homes and communities.”

[Photo: Teenage boy with eyeglasses Exactostock/ Superstock 1555R-179034]



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2 Responses to Why are medications used to treat mental and behavioral health disorders?

  1. Lisa Dickson says:

    One thing that this blog entry fails to mention is that most psychotropic drugs have only been tested on adults, or that young children are three times as likely as adults to have adverse results to psychotropic drugs, because their bodies can’t metabolize them or eliminate them.

    • Dear Lisa,
      ‘Pomegranate Cares’ asks the doctor:
      ‘Children are in a state of rapid change and growth during their developmental years. Diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders must be viewed with these changes in mind. While some problems are short-lived and don’t need treatment, others are persistent and very serious, and parents should seek professional help for their children.
      Yes. Young children’s bodies handle medications differently than older individuals and this has implications for dosage. The brains of young children are in a state of very rapid development, and animal studies have shown that the developing neurotransmitter systems can be very sensitive to medications. A great deal of research is still needed to determine the effects and benefits of medications in children of all ages. Yet it is important to remember that serious untreated mental disorders themselves negatively impact brain development.’
      “An NIMH-funded study to test the efficacy and safety of medications commonly used by practitioners to treat children and adolescents (in off-label applications), found that fluvoxamine [Luvox], an SSRI antidepressant approved for treating OCD in children, was both safe and effective in treating social phobia, separation anxiety disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder in children 6 to 17 years of age.”

      Dr. Kasiraja Sathappan, MD
      Pomegranate Health Systems of Columbus,Ohio

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