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Types of Mental Health Medications

Types of Mental Health Medications

Prescription medications can be vital elements of care for people who have been living with certain mental illnesses. But not every medication works the same for every person. Thankfully, continued advances in psychopharmacology have given treatment professionals several types of mental health medications to choose from, so they can find the ones that are best for each individual patient.

Types of Mental Health Medications

Antidepressants, anti-anxiety meds (which are often referred to as anxiolytics), antipsychotics, stimulants, and mood stabilizers are five of the most commonly prescribed types of mental health medications. In the sections below, we take a closer look at each of these types.


As the name suggests, antidepressants are designed to alleviate the symptoms of major depressive disorder, persistent depressive disorder, and other types of depression. 

Some antidepressants are also prescribed to people who have other conditions, such as bipolar disorder, some anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), sleeping problems, and chronic pain.

Here are a few examples of the various types of mental health medications that fall within the antidepressant category: 

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs): This category includes paroxetine (Paxil), fluoxetine (Prozac), and sertraline (Zoloft).
  • Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs): Commonly prescribed SNRIs include venlafaxine (Effexor), duloxetine (Cymbalta), and desvenlafaxine (Pristiq).
  • Norepinephrine-dopamine reuptake inhibitors (NDRIs): At the moment, bupropion (Wellbutrin) is the only NDRI that has earned FDA approval to treat depression in the U.S.

Patients who are being treated for depression typically begin by taking one or more medications from the three types listed above. If they do not respond to any of these types of mental health medications, their doctor may try one of the following older antidepressants:

  • Tricyclic antidepressants: Examples of tricyclics include protriptyline (Vivactil), amoxapine (Asendin), and trimipramine (Surmontil).
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MOAIs): Medications in the MAOI category include selegiline (Emsam), isocarboxazid (Marplan), and tranylcypromine (Parnate). 

Lower success rates and greater potential for disruptive side effects are among the reasons why tricyclics and MOAIs are no longer considered first-line antidepressants. 

Anti-Anxiety Medications (Anxiolytics)

Several types of mental health medications – including antidepressants, beta blockers, and antihistamines – have anxiolytic properties. However, for the purposes of this post, we are going to focus on two types of medication that are most commonly prescribed to help alleviate the symptoms of anxiety disorders:

  • Benzodiazepines: Medications in this category include alprazolam (Xanax), lorazepam (Ativan), and clonazepam (Klonopin).
  • Z-drugs: This category is so named because it includes substances whose generic names start with the letter “z.” Examples include zolpidem (Intermezzo), zaleplon (Sonata), and zopiclone (Zimovane).

Benzos and z-drugs both elicit a sense of serene euphoria, an easing of stress, and mild sedation. Unfortunately, these effects also make anxiolytics a popular category for individuals who are seeking a certain type of recreational high.


Also sometimes called neuroleptics, antipsychotics are a class of medications that are often prescribed to people who have schizophrenia. These drugs can help alleviate psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations, delusions, and negative symptoms.

Antipsychotics are also used on an off-label basis to treat people who have dementia, eating disorders, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), OCD, and other mental health conditions. There are two categories of antipsychotics:

  • First-generation antipsychotics: These medications, which are also referred to as “typical” antipsychotics, were developed in the 1950s. Examples include chlorpromazine (Thorazine) and haloperidol (Haldol). They are used more sparingly today, primarily due to their potential for severe side effects, which can include seizures and cardiac arrest. 
  • Second-generation antipsychotics: Developed in the 1980s (and sometimes called “atypical”), this category of antipsychotics includes quetiapine (Seroquel), aripiprazole (Abilify), and lurasidone (Latuda). Unlike first-generation antipsychotics, which only block dopamine receptors in the central nervous system, second-generation medications also impact serotonin levels.

Mood Stabilizers

Antipsychotics are sometimes grouped with anticonvulsants and lithium into a category called mood stabilizers. These medications can help people who have bipolar disorder or other conditions that cause dramatic swings in mood and attitude. In addition to lithium, drugs that are used for this purpose include risperidone (Risperdal) and valproate (Depakote).

Though they can be extremely beneficial, mood stabilizers can also cause significant side effects, including weight gain, tremors, lethargy, nausea, and alopecia. 


The category of stimulants includes dangerous recreational substances such as methamphetamine and cocaine. But this category also includes medications that are commonly used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). 

Two of the most popular ADHD medications, Ritalin and Adderall, both contain stimulants. Ritalin is includes methylphenidate, while Adderall is composed of racemic amphetamine and dextroamphetamine. 

Though it may initially seem counterintuitive to prescribe a stimulant to someone whose symptoms may include restlessness and excess energy, Ritalin and Adderall have a documented history of success.

Find Mental Health Treatment in Atlanta, Georgia

While the medications that we discussed in today’s post can alleviate several mental health symptoms, medication alone is rarely enough to fully address most mental illnesses. When prescription medication is incorporated into a comprehensive treatment plan that also includes customized therapies and support services, patients may have a much greater likelihood of making sustained progress toward improved quality of life. 

At Atlanta Psychiatric Institute, we offer a dynamic array of services to help adults whose lives have been disrupted by anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, PTSD, and a range of additional mental health concerns. We also care for adults whose mental health struggles are accompanied by substance use disorders (addictions).

We conduct thorough assessments to ensure that we have identified the full scope of each patient’s needs, then we develop an individualized plan just for them. Our team of dedicated caregivers takes the time to get to know each patient as a unique individual, so we can be sure that we are providing the focused services that can help them live a healthier and more satisfying life.

To learn more or to schedule an assessment, please visit our appointment page or call us today.  

More on Mental Health Medication

Do Mood Stabilizers Help with Depression?
Can You Become Addicted to Antidepressants?
How Does Gabapentin Affect Your Sleep?

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