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4 OTC Drugs That Might Improve Your Mental Health

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Credit: Everyday Health

Editor’s Note: You should always first consult your primary physician before taking any of these drugs for off-label uses.

Following a psychiatric diagnosis, psychopharmacological drugs are usually prescribed as a first-line treatment to alleviate symptoms rapidly.

For depressive disorders, there are several classes of antidepressants, with the most popular being selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Zoloft and Paxil. For anxiety disorders and insomnia, certain antidepressants may be used as first-line treatment, along with benzodiazepines like Valium and Klonopin, and very rarely, barbiturates.

Although psychopharmacological drugs are the most efficient in treating affective disorders, many are unaware of over-the-counter (OTC) options found at your local drug store.

While it’s not recommended to utilize OTC drugs as long-term treatment, they may, however, treat your affective symptoms for a brief time until you see a mental health professional.

Here are four OTC drugs that may bring temporary relief to your mental health condition.

1. Benadryl (diphenhydramine)

Since the 1940s, the first-generation H1-antihistamine drug Benadryl, known generically as diphenhydramine, has been used to treat allergies, flu-like symptoms, and help induce sleep.

What some don’t know is that — apart from its sleep-inducing, hypnotic attributes useful for insomnia — diphenhydramine also carries anxiolytic properties. It can be used to help with acute cases of generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder.

Additionally, diphenhydramine can also be taken to treat extrapyramidal side effects mimicking Parkinson’s disease, like tremors, bradykinesia, and postural instability, caused by conventional and atypical antipsychotics such as Haldol and Risperdal.

If you plan on trying diphenhydramine for acute anxiety or insomnia, remember to never drive or operate machinery due to its sedative features.

2. Magnesium (dietary supplement)

In June of 2017, a study was published in PLoS One and provided antidepressant users with an OTC alternative to help treat mild to moderate depression.

According to Emily Tarleton, a bionutrition research manager at the University of Vermont’s Clinical Research Center, orally administered magnesium tablets with a daily median dosage of 250 milligrams may relieve symptoms of clinical depression as effective as SSRI antidepressants.

Similar to antidepressants, taking magnesium once a day would require a couple of weeks until you feel a significant change.

Tarleton believes that many people carry a magnesium deficiency which could explain some cases of depressive symptoms.

Moreover, since magnesium regulates the nervous system, it may also help treat symptoms of anxiety, irritability, and restlessness. The therapeutic dosage should never pass 500 milligrams a day. If toxicity occurs, calcium gluconate is usually administered to reverse a magnesium overdose.

3. NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs)

For many years, researchers have been piecing together a link between inflammation and mental illness.

According to new research, a new class of anti-inflammatory drugs, in particular, may help treat symptoms of clinical depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia, when used together with antidepressants.

Adding an anti-inflammatory drug to a psychotropic medication plan for depression may help further reduce symptoms and even prevent relapse. One such anti-inflammatory drug that received media attention was Celebrex, which is prescribed to treat pain and inflammation synonymous with osteoarthritis and ankylosing spondylitis.

Furthermore, although anti-inflammatory drugs have been proven to be effective in adjunction with antidepressants, more research is still needed to understand the association between inflammation and mental illness better.

4. Melatonin (dietary supplement)

Melatonin, or N-acetyl-5-methoxy tryptamine, is a hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain.

In the US, Canada, and several European countries, melatonin is available as an OTC dietary supplement to help counteract acute insomnia and promote a healthy sleep pattern.

According to research, melatonin could improve sleep onset latency, duration, and night-time awakenings, for adults with autism or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

There is no evidence, however, of any efficacy for anxiety disorders. Melatonin is not recommended for users under the age of 18. Adverse effects include nausea, irritability, and next-day grogginess.

Jose Florez is the founder of Mental Daily. His work has appeared in Psychology Today, Glamour, The Huffington Post, Elite Daily, among others. He is a mental health advocate, and currently studying psychology.

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