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Treating Anxiety & Depression With Mental Health Medications

Treating Anxiety & Depression With Medications

Living with anxiety and depression can be an overwhelming and isolating experience. Millions of people worldwide deal with these complex mental health conditions and seek treatment to find relief.

There are many treatment options for anxiety and depression, including therapy, lifestyle choices, and mental health medications. At Synergy, we believe in taking a holistic approach to treatment—which means trying several different modalities to find the right combination for you and your mental health.

First, what’s the difference between anxiety and depression?

Anxiety and depression are distinct but often overlapping mental health conditions. They share some common symptoms and sometimes coexist within the same person, but they have unique characteristics and affect different people in different ways.

AnxietyDepression
Primary emotion: excessive worry, fear, or nervousness about the futurePrimary emotion: a persistent feeling of sadness, hopelessness, and lack of feelings of pleasure
Physical symptoms: restlessness, muscle tension, increased heart rate, sweating, trembling, and fatiguePhysical symptoms: changes in appetite, sleep disturbances, fatigue, psychomotor agitation or retardation
Cognitive symptoms: racing thoughts, difficulty concentrating, a sense of impending doom or dangerCognitive symptoms: feelings of worthlessness, guilt, difficulty concentrating, and thoughts of death or suicide
Types of anxiety disorders: Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Panic Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, and specific phobiasTypes of Depressive Disorders: Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), Persistent Depressive Disorder (Dysthymia), and Bipolar Disorder (during depressive episodes)
Triggers: often arises in response to specific triggers or stressors and can be a normal and adaptive response to certain situationsTriggers: depression can be triggered by specific life events, but it can also occur without an apparent external cause
Time orientation: future-oriented, worry about what might happenTime orientation: past-oriented, dwelling on past failures, losses, or disappointments

While these are common traits of anxiety and depression, mental health is extremely complex—and individuals may experience a spectrum of symptoms that don’t neatly fit into categories. Seeking professional help is essential for an accurate diagnosis!

Treating anxiety and depression with mental health medications

If you’re considering taking mental health medications to treat your anxiety and/or depression, you can get lots of relevant info from your mental health provider, whether a therapist, psychiatrist, or nurse practitioner.

Here is a (not comprehensive!) list of some of the more popular types of mental health medications and what makes them distinctive:

  1. Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI): SSRIs are commonly prescribed for both anxiety and depression. Some common brand names include Prozac, Zoloft, and Lexapro. They work by increasing serotonin levels in the brain, promoting a more stable mood.
  2. Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs): SNRIs, such as brand name Effexor and Cymbalta, target both serotonin and norepinephrine. They’re often recommended when SSRIs are ineffective.
  3. Benzodiazepines: While not typically the first line of treatment, benzodiazepines like Xanax and Ativan are sometimes prescribed for short-term relief from severe anxiety.
  4. Tricyclic Antidepressants (TCAs): TCAs are older antidepressants with a different mechanism of action compared to SSRIs and SNRIs–they are used less frequently today due to their side effect profile.
  5. Atypical Antidepressants: This category includes Wellbutrin, which works on norepinephrine and dopamine. These are typically considered when other options are not well-tolerated.

Side effects of anxiety and depression medications

Antidepressants and anxiolytics can have uncomfortable side effects that vary from person to person. If one drug doesn’t work well for you, you can shift to a different one to see if it works better for your body and mind.

Common side effects to watch out for include nausea, insomnia or drowsiness, weight changes, sexual side effects (changes in libido, difficulty reaching orgasm), dry mouth, blurred vision, constipation or diarrhea, sweating, dizziness or lightheadedness, and irritability or agitation.

It’s important to be on the lookout for any of these symptoms that you can attribute to your mental health medication. Sometimes it’s difficult to discern what is caused by anxiety or depression and what is caused by the drug itself, but going into your treatment with a spirit of observation and curiosity can be helpful as you work to figure things out.

As you settle into taking a new medication, it’s important to communicate with your health provider about your experience. Report any side effects you’re experiencing—and if you’re having symptoms that are worsening, seek immediate medical attention.

Combining mental health medications with therapy

It’s common for people taking mental health medications to simultaneously see a therapist or counselor to treat their anxiety and/or depression with talk therapy in addition to meds. This combination is known as a multimodal or integrative treatment approach and can have many benefits, such as:

  1. Comprehensive treatment: Mental health medications and therapy address different aspects of mental health. Medications can help manage symptoms by influencing neurotransmitter levels, while therapy provides a supportive environment to explore thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.
  2. Enhanced symptom relief: By treating your mental health from different angles, you have a better chance of finding relief. Medications can offer relatively quick relief, whereas therapy provides tools and coping strategies for long-term management.
  3. Targeting root causes: Therapy can help you explore and address the underlying causes of mental health issues, such as past traumas, unresolved conflicts, or maladaptive thought patterns. Medications can alleviate your symptoms which can help you engage more effectively in therapy.
  4. Improved coping skills: A therapist can help you develop stress management techniques and problem-solving strategies. These skills complement the effects of mental health medications and empower you to better handle life’s challenges.
  5. Increased adherence: With a mental health professional holding you accountable, you may have an easier time staying focused on doing what you need to do to feel better.
  6. Holistic approach: Integrating mental health medications and therapy represents a holistic approach to mental health care—but you don’t have to stop there. You can add in whatever other healing modalities work for you, including meditation, exercise, massage, aromatherapy, and stress reduction techniques.

At Synergy Integrative Health & Wellness, we work with clients who are struggling with mental health challenges in a number of ways that align with our holistic approach to health.

Mental Health Medication Management: Avoid long wait times and get a quick way to get assessed, diagnosed, and set up with a medication management plan in collaboration with your mental health professional.

Ketamine-Assisted Psychotherapy: We’ll assess you, process your prescriptions, and monitor your progress so you can safely move forward with treatment with a psychedelic-certified therapist. If you need help finding a therapist, we can refer you to those in our Chicagoland network.

Nutritional counseling and holistic health coaching: If dietary considerations factor into your treatment plan, our dietitian and holistic health coach can work with you to make adjustments to your diet and lifestyle that will help you feel better overall.

We wish you the best in your healing process—and we’re here to help you find relief.

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