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Hello Idaho: Understanding medications and their side effects

Medication can be an important part of mental health treatment, but many people have some concerns around taking it.

BOISE, Idaho — Taking a new prescribed medication can seem a little scary. 

It is important to ask your doctor questions to ease your anxiety, so you can be more informed about the side effects going in.

Dr. Julie Wood says that although people are prescribed medicine for their mental health every day, some patients have concerns.

“We hear numerous responses from people on why they’re afraid to take medications. And they can be as common as individuals prefer something natural, or they’re afraid of becoming addicted to a medication, and if they start using it they’re never going to be able to come off of it," Wood said. "We also hear that people say this medication is going to change who I am and I won’t be me anymore and worry about personality changes or becoming a different person. It’s always important to communicate your fears to your physician or prescriber just because that gives them the chance to explain the risks, the benefits of medications, and possibly alternate treatment options.”

Wood said medications for mental health conditions can roughly be grouped into five categories: Anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medication, anti-psychotics, mood stabilizers, and sleep medications. 

Side effects of each can vary from an upset stomach or dizziness to trouble concentrating, drowsiness, or weight gain.

“I know this sounds very scary, but again, many of these are very rare side effects: that doesn’t necessarily mean this is going to happen to you," Wood said. "Talk to your prescriber and let them know what you’re experiencing because medications can certainly make a huge impact for the better on your quality of life and everyday functioning.”

Understanding how and when to take your medication is also important, whether it’s with food or water or during a certain time in the day, Wood said.

“You need to take your medications as they’re prescribed. Don’t stop medications abruptly because that can precipitate side effects or withdrawal symptoms," she said. "And then lastly, again just reiterating that communication with your provider or prescriber. Let them know how you’re feeling and certainly let them know if you’re having side effects.”

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