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#1 Medications

Part 2: Types of medications

Types of psychiatric medications

Psychiatric medications

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), five common types of psychiatric medications are used today. [1]

  1. Antidepressants: Treat depression, anxiety, pain, insomnia, ADHD.
  2. Anti-Anxiety Medications: Reduce symptoms of anxiety, panic attacks.
  3. Stimulants: Treat attention deficit disorder.
  4. Antipsychotics: Treat psychotic symptoms, such as delusions, hallucinations, and schizophrenia.
  5. Mood Stabilizers: - Treat bipolar disorder and mood swings.

The table below shows the top 10 psychiatric medications prescribed in the U.S. in 2013, extracted from an article by PsychCentral. [2] For further details and an explanation of each drug, the drug names and images of their bottles are hyperlinked to NAMI's drug information at the National Alliance of Mental Illness (except Desyrel, which has a link to MedlinePlus).

Rank Brand (Generic) Main purpose Type U.S. Prescription
1 Xanax (Alprazolam) Anxiety Benzodiazepine 48.5 millions
2 Zoloft (Sertraline) Depression SSRI 41.4 millions
3 Celexa (Citalopram) Depression SSRI 39.4 millions
4 Prozac (Fluoxetine HCL) Depression SSRI 28.2 millions
5 Ativan (Lorazepam) Anxiety Benzodiazepine 27.9 millions
6 Desyrel (Trazodone HCL) Depression SARI 26.2 millions
7 Lexapro (Escitalopram) Depression SSRI 24.9 millions
8 Cymbalta (Duloxetine) Depression SNRI 18.6 millions
9 Wellbutrin XL (Bupropion HCL XL) Depression NDRI 16.1 millions
10 Effexor ER (Venlafaxine HCL ER) Depression SNRI 15.8 millions

Xanax Zoloft Celexa Prozac Ativan Desyrel Lexapro Cymbalta Wellbutrin Effexor

Notice that eight of the ten medications are anti-depressants. In fact, according to a government study, roughly one in ten Americans take antidepressants, which are the third most commonly prescribed drug for Americans (after cholesterol treatments and pain-killers). [3] Disturbingly, 80% of antidepressants were prescribed by non-psychiatrists without any accompanying psychiatric diagnosis. [4]

Notice also that seven out of eight antidepressants target the neurotransmitter serotonin, while the other type targets the other neurotransmitters, norepinephrine and dopamine. All these drug types—SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor), SARI (Serotonin Antagonist and Reuptake Inhibitor), SNRI (Serotonin Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitor), and NDRI (Norepinephrine Dopamine Reuptake Inhibitor)—share the same principle. Although the exact mechanism is still unknown, the current hypothesis is that limiting the ability to reabsorb neurotransmitters at the transmitter side of synaptic cells (called reuptake) increases the level at the receiving end of synaptic cells. [5][6]

For anti-anxiety, Benzodiazepines (BZD) has been the primary substance for treatment.

Other commonly used medications are Abilify, Seroquel, Risperdal, and Zyprexa for bipolar disorders and schizophrenia. For attention deficit disorders, Vyvanse, Concerta, generic Amphetamine salts, and generic Methylphenidate are often used. For panic disorders, the same anti-anxiety medications are commonly prescribed. Also, there are special types of medications for alcoholism treatment (acamprosate, naltrexone) and heroin detoxification (methadone, buprenorphine). Other diagnosed symptoms like OCD, PTSD, and PMDD are treated with the same medications used for the other major symptoms. [7]

For details on specific drugs, MedlinePlus and NAMI are good, reliable sources.


The list below shows popular supplements for mental health, extracted from an article at Be Brain Fit. [8]

  1. DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid) (e.g., omega-3 fatty acid, fish oil)
  2. Citicoline
  3. Curcumin (active ingredient in turmeric)
  4. Acetylcarnitine (ALC)
  5. Phosphatidylserine (PS)
  6. Vinpocetine
  7. Alpha GPC
  8. Bacopa Monnieri
  9. Huperzine A
  10. Ginkgo Biloba
DHA Citicoline Curcumin Acetylcarnitine ALC Phosphatidylserine PS Vinpocetine Alpha GPC Bacopa Monnieri Huperzine A Ginko Biloba

Vitamins, minerals, and amino acids are also popular as supplements for mental health. The list below is from an article at Everyday Health.[9]

Supplements are a big business. According to a study by the National Center for Health Statistics published in 2009, Americans spend $34 billion annually on complementary and alternative remedies, $7 billion on vitamin supplements, and 14.8 billion on nonvitamin, nonmineral, natural products (e.g. fish oil, glucosamine).[10]

Efficacy and risks of medications

The efficacy and risks of using specific medications and supplements are well documented and readily accessible at trustworthy websites such as FDA, NIMH, NAMI, MedlinePlus, and

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Home  >  Mental care principles  >  #1 Medications  >  Part 2: Types of medications

Next, we explore how doctors prescribe medications.

>>> Part 3: Prescription process