Mental Health Treatment: When Is It Time for Medication?

Mental Health Medications
Dominic Nicosia

Written By

Dominic Nicosia
Dr. Po-Chang Hsu -

Medically Reviewed By:

Dr. Po-Chang Hsu

Last Medically Reviewed on February 23, 2024

It can be hard to admit that you need medication for a mental health issue. For all the progress that’s been made toward destigmatizing mood disorders, there’s still a negative perception toward those who take medications for mental illness that can make people self-conscious about taking them. You may tell yourself that you don’t need meds or that your condition “isn’t serious enough” to warrant pharmacological intervention because you’re afraid of the category it puts you in and what other people will think.

The truth is, however, that millions of people rely on medications to properly manage mental health issues like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, trauma, and more. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that nearly 16 percent[1] of American adults took medication as part of their mental health treatment plan in 2019. You’re not alone if you discover that you need mental health medication, but it’s important to know the right time to start taking it.

Why Do I Need Mental Health Medication?

When you’re battling mental health issues, there are complex changes in brain chemistry at play. While external factors can intensify these changes, they often occur irrespective of the situational stress that’s going on in your life. Depression, for instance, may be the result of brainwave activity disruptions, as well as an imbalance in the neurotransmitters[2] dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine, among others. Medications can help to stabilize brain chemistry while you work on external factors through therapy and lifestyle changes.

Mental health medications, or psychotropic drugs[3], generally fall into one of the following groups:

  • Antidepressants
  • Antipsychotics
  • Mood Stabilizers
  • Anti-Anxiety Agents
  • Stimulants

These drugs are each formulated to address different types of imbalances in neurochemistry and are NOT to be used without a prescription from a physician.

On the other hand, certain external factors like gut health and emotional trauma can also disrupt neurochemistry. The same goes for other mental health issues like anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder, borderline personality disorder, etc. This is why you need to work with your doctor to integrate medications into a comprehensive mental health treatment plan.

Deciding When It’s Time to Take Medications

One of the first rules of deciding when to explore mental health medications is that you don’t do it alone. Work with your primary care physician or psychiatrist to determine if and when medication is warranted for your mental health issue. This process can include, but is not limited to:

  • Assessing the full scope of your symptoms during a physical exam
  • Targeted and extended behavioral therapy and counseling
  • Eliminating other potential lifestyle causes
  • Determining your mental health issue is causing physical symptoms (stomach issues, headaches, racing heart, ulcer, etc.)
  • Determining your mental health issue interferes with your life (work, family, relationships, legal or financial issues, etc.)

Everyone’s mental health diagnosis is unique. Different types of mood disorders will have different symptoms and require their own examination before medication is prescribed. The duration of medication treatment for mental health issues is individualized and depends on the specific condition and response to therapy, not generally aimed at being short-term.

What Else Should I Know about Mental Health Medications?

When considering medications for mental health issues, it’s also important to realize:

  • They are not cures, and they only treat symptoms.
  • They each come with side effects that should be discussed with your doctor.
  • They should not be substituted for other elements of mental health treatment, like psychotherapy.
  • It can take time to experience the benefits of these drugs.

One of the most important things to remember about mental health medications is that they can be incredibly addictive. Signs of addiction can often include taking more of your medicines in larger or more frequent doses, watching the clock between doses, buying them off the street, taking a friend or family member’s supply, and experiencing physical or psychological withdrawal symptoms.

Recovery Unplugged offers comprehensive mental health treatment that can include the safe, responsible dispensation of certain types of medications. We also recognize that these medications can lead to dependency if taken excessively, and we offer a full continuum of care for substance use disorder, including detox and rehab. If you or someone you care about needs help, contact us today to start your treatment and recovery. We offer multiple locations nationwide and are in-network with most major insurance companies to make care more affordable. Recovery Unplugged offers inpatient, outpatient, and virtual treatment services.

We take our music-focused treatment for addiction very seriously, so we are going to hold our content to the same precision standards. Recovery Unplugged’s editorial process involves our editing safeguard and our ideals. Read our Editorial Process.


[1] CDC. (2020, September 23). Products—Data Briefs—Number 380—September 2020.

[2] Schimelpfening, N. (2022, December 9). What Is the Chemistry Behind Depression? Verywell Mind.

[3] Ghoshal, M. (2019, November 6). What Is a Psychotropic Drug? Types, Uses, Side Effects, Risks & More. Healthline.

Dominic Nicosia

Dominic, a seasoned content writer at Recovery Unplugged, brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to the realm of healthcare writing, particularly in the addiction and recovery field.

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