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The Benefits of Combining Therapy and Medication Management

Written byDesiree Smith

Your mental health affects everything you do — from social interactions to daily routines. So, if your mental health is suffering, other aspects of your life will suffer, too. Because of this, mental health struggles should never be swept under the rug. If you start to recognize significant patterns of poor mental health, it may be time to seek help.

With the rise in mental health awareness over the past decade, treatment options have become more accessible than ever. But with so many options, it can be challenging to know which would be best for you.

While multiple treatment options exist, medication and therapy are two of the most popular. Each can be effective on their own, but they often produce better results when used together.

Exploring Medication Treatment

While taking medication to treat mental health problems may sound drastic or intimidating, it’s highly effective and can provide lasting symptom relief.

For this discussion of mental health medication, we’ll focus primarily on antidepressants. Most commonly prescribed for depression, bipolar depression, generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and social anxiety, antidepressants provide symptom relief by changing how your brain uses neurotransmitters to regulate your mood and behavior. More specifically, they can affect the production and uptake of serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine neurotransmitters.

A healthcare professional must prescribe antidepressants, and your dosage depends on the type of antidepressant and the severity of your condition. Most healthcare providers will start you on a lower dose and increase your dosage as you adapt to the medication.

In the same way, healthcare providers must slowly lower your dosage when the time comes to stop taking medication. You should never stop taking an antidepressant before talking to a professional. Feeling better isn’t a sign to stop taking an antidepressant — it’s a sign it’s working! If you stop taking antidepressants without taking the proper steps first, you may experience withdrawals. And more importantly, coming off an antidepressant too soon could cause your condition to return. If you don’t experience a noticeable difference after taking medication for only three or four weeks, don’t stop taking it. The medication just hasn’t had time to take full effect. Of course, if you have questions, you should always consult your mental health provider.

Treatment with an antidepressant can last at least six months after you start to feel better, but those with chronic or lasting conditions may need to stay on medication for the foreseeable future. While antidepressants effectively treat symptoms, they don’t always address the root causes of those symptoms. That’s why therapy, which we will talk about in just a moment, can be a valuable addition to your treatment regimen. But first, let’s take a closer look at the most common antidepressants.

Types of Antidepressants

Antidepressants aren’t a one-size-fits-all solution. There are different kinds of antidepressants, each with distinct uses and effects. You may start with one and later switch to another. The most important thing is finding the right antidepressant for you.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)

SSRIs are the most commonly prescribed antidepressants. They inhibit the uptake of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood. By preventing the body from breaking down serotonin, SSRIs can increase your body’s serotonin levels. They are often considered a first-line treatment for mood disorders, including major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Serotonin/norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)

SNRIs block the reabsorption of serotonin and norepinephrine, making those neurotransmitters more available to your brain. They are often prescribed for patients with mood disorders who don’t respond to SSRIs alone.

Tricyclic and tetracyclic antidepressants

Tricyclic and tetracyclic antidepressants are older antidepressants that block serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake. Tetracyclic antidepressants enhance serotonin and norepinephrine transmission and are used when other antidepressants haven’t been effective or weight gain is desired.

Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)

MAOIs are the oldest class of antidepressants. They block the enzyme monoamine oxidase, which breaks down neurotransmitters — such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine — in the brain. MAOIs are often prescribed to treat depression in people who don’t respond to other antidepressants, but they aren’t widely used due to potential interactions with food, beverages, and other drugs.

The Benefits of Combined Treatment

While antidepressants can alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression by targeting brain chemistry, they don't address our thought patterns or life challenges that may be contributing to our mental health issues. Healthcare providers often recommend Integrated Psychotherapy in addition to depression medication, as this combination will produce the largest improvement.

Integrated Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, involves discussing your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors with a trained mental health professional. You’ll learn coping skills, improve your communication, and work through any issues causing distress. While medication helps reduce the symptoms, therapy teaches the skills needed to manage them. This combination has proven to be highly effective for conditions like anxiety and depression, where medication alone may not be enough.

As we’ve said, combining medication management with therapy can increase your treatment’s effectiveness, as they work in different ways but complement each other. Perhaps the most valuable benefit of combined treatment is that it tends to lower the risk of relapse. So, if you ever start to experience an increase in symptoms, you’ll have the tools you need to properly manage them.

If you’re struggling with anxiety or depression, we encourage you to consider medication and therapy. By working with a healthcare expert, you can develop a treatment plan tailored to your needs. You deserve to find lasting symptom relief, and the right treatment plan will help you do just that.

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