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Mental Illness Guide: Care, Support, and Education
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The value of taking medicine

Empowerment through taking your medication

The value of taking your medications is that they can help you deal with symptoms of the illness.  Your medications will help you to think clearly and improve your relationships with other people.  If you take your medication every day, the hallucinations and delusions will be gone or significantly reduced.  Medications will help organize your thinking and speech.  Your doctor might give you other medicines that can help keep you free from depression, anxiety, and mood swings.

You can work with your treatment team to find the right medicines for you.  You might have to adjust or change some medicines.  Do not stop taking your medicine without talking to your treatment team members.  Taking your medicine is part of your return to a more normal life.  Your life may include going back to work or school, living with your family or where you choose, and doing things you did before you became ill.  If you take your medicine the way the doctor says, you will have less difficulty managing your life, and a serious mental illness will not be able to control your life and rob you of your choices.  Taking your medicine is the best thing you can do for yourself

What can I do to help make it easier for me to take my medicines?

The best thing to do is to set up a schedule to help you remember to take your medicine.  Your family and treatment team will be able to help you with this.  Filling a day-at-a-time, weekly pill minder may be helpful.  Using a diary to keep track of when you took your medicine, how it affected your symptoms and how it made you feel will help your doctors to know if the medicines you are taking are right for you and if you are taking the medicine in the right way.

You should record things such as, does this medicine seem to help you?  Does anything seem wrong or unusual after you take your medicines?  Sometimes your medicines may cause side effects.  Sometimes the way you feel suggests that your doctor should change the dosage, but sometimes side effects could be signs of getting sick again.  It is important to have these things written down so that you and your doctor can work together to keep this from happening.  More importantly, your diary can inspire you.  It will help you to see the progress you are making and give you the will to want to continue to take your medicine.

Discuss any side effects with your doctor

People respond differently to medications.  A medication that works well for you may not work for someone else and vice versa.  Your doctor can work with you to decrease any negative side effects of the medications.  Side effects of your medications may include things like weight gain, shaking, getting tired, or movements of your tongue or mouth that you cannot control.

Why so many different medicines for schizophrenia?

There are many different medicines available to treat symptoms of schizophrenia. You may be wondering why we need so many to choose from.  This is because different medicines work in different ways to adjust the brain chemicals and help your symptoms. That is why if one medicine does not work for you, another medicine might work better.

Some people may need more than one type of medicine to get relief from their symptoms. The important thing is to work with your doctor to find the medicine and dosage that is the best for you.

Adjustments to my medications

You and your doctor will decide on what medications are helpful for you.  While you are figuring out what medication is best, you may have to make some changes.  For example, if you are having a lot of side effects, your doctor may want to change your medications.  Or if the medications are not working as well as they should, your doctor may want to make some changes.  Medication changes can be made in several ways.  The doctor might want to change the kind of medication you are taking, how much medication you take, or when you take the medication.  The doctor may also want to stop one of your medications or add another medication.

How do my medications work?

Anti-psychotic medications change the levels of chemicals in the brain.  These chemicals are called neurotransmitters.  They help your brain to work.  If the level of neurotransmitters is not right, it can cause problems.  For example, your brain may think it sees things that really are not there. People with serious mental illness who take medications often notice a decrease in their symptoms, such as hearing voices and seeing visions that other people do not hear or see.

Once you begin taking the medications, it usually takes at least a couple of weeks for the medications to have time to start working.  After this happens, you need to keep taking medications as your doctor tells you to so that you have the right dose to help you.

Common medications

Drug names are often hard to say and remember.  In addition, drugs have more than one name.  For example, drugs have what is called a trade name as well as a generic name.  Your doctors may use either name.  The trade name is like a brand name.  Let us look at an easier example that does not deal with medications.  Kleenex is a trade (or brand) name, and facial tissue is a generic name.  It is the same with your medications.  Below is a list of some commonly used medications.

You may hear doctors refer to your medications as “typical” or “atypical”.  Older medications are called typical, and newer ones are called atypical.  There are some differences in the chemical makeup and the side effects they may cause. Often the newer medications have different side effects.  Some people have better luck with the older or “typical” medications.  Some people with the newer "atypical" medications.

Atypical Antipsychotic Medications

Trade name Generic name Website with information on this drug
Clozaril clozapine
Geodon ziprasidone
Seroquel  quetiapine fumarate
Zyprexa  olanzapine
Abilify Aripiprazole

Typical  Antipsychotic Medications

Trade Name Generic name Website with information on this drug
Haldol haloperidol
Loxitane loxapine
Mellaril thioridazine
Navane thiothixene
Prolixin fluphenazine
Stelazine trifluoperazine
Thorazine chlorpromazine
Trilafon perphenazine

Some antipsychotic medications come in an injection form that stays longer in the body.  This form is called decanoate.   Four drugs come in this form.  They are Haldol-decanoate and Prolixin-decanoate, Risperdal Consta and Integra Sustenna.  Since they last longer in the body, you do not have to take them as often. These medications are good for people who have trouble taking their medications regularly.

Mood Stabilizers

Trade name Generic name Website with information on this drug
Depakote Divalproex
Tegretol Carbamazepine
Trileptal Oxcarbazepine
Lamictal Lamotrigine
Lithium Lithium Carbonate