A Pastor’s Guide to Common Psychotropic Medications

Thanks for sharing!

Pastors spend a lot of time talking with parishioners about life’s problems. Those sharing about depression, anxiety or other mental illnesses may be taking psychotropic medications, such as an antidepressant, prescribed by a doctor or psychiatrist. The sea of names can be confusing, with brand names and generics being used interchangeably.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness has offered a helpful chart (found here) that lists all the various medications prescribed for mental health disorders. I have chosen a few of the most commonly prescribed medications to highlight here for a quick reference for pastors.


While there are many classes of antidepressants, the most common category is known as the SSRIs. These are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors that work by stopping the brain’s nerve endings from absorbing serotonin back after it has been released in the brain. This keeps more serotonin available in the brain so that the brain receives more neurotransmitters that produce positive feelings. The most commonly prescribed antidepressants are Prozac (fluoxetine), Celexa (citalopram), Lexapro (escitalopram) and Zoloft (sertraline). Effexor (venlafaxine) and Wellbutrin (bupropion) are not SSRIs but are also commonly prescribed for depression. 

Anti-Anxiety Medications

While antidepressants are often used to treat anxiety symptoms, there are other medications that can be used to treat panic or anxiety. Many of the anti-anxiety medications are habit forming, so you may want to be aware of a parishioner’s use of these medications particularly if they appear to be using more than prescribed or have a drug history. While a doctor has to have a signed release to share information about a patient, a pastor who is concerned about medication abuse can leave a message for the doctor to inform him without expecting a call back.

Common anti-anxiety medications are Klonopin (clonazepam), Ativan (lorazepam), BuSpar (buspirone) and Xanax (alprazolam).

Mood Stabilizers and Antipsychotics

This category of medication is used primarily for the treatment of Bipolar Disorder in which a person experiences both manic and depressive symptoms. Common mood stabilizers are Depakote, Lithium, Lamictal and Topamax. Antipsychotics treat psychotic disorders such as Schizophrenia. There are many older medications such as Haldol and Thorazine that are used in extreme situations, such as in a hospital setting, but are rarely prescribed to a person within a community setting. More common and modern medications, known as atypical antipsychotics include Abilify (aripiprazole), Clozaril (clozapine), Risperdal (risperidone), Seroquel (quetiapine) and Zyprexa (olanzapine).


Finally, stimulants are often prescribed for those experiencing symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder. While Ritalin may be most commonly recognized, newer medications are taking the place of older ones. Adderall (amphetamine and dextroamphetamine) is frequently used as well as newer Concerta and non-stimulant Strattera.

Medications are not always used to treat mental illness. There are some non-medical interventions that can help in non-chronic situations, such as a single episode of depression, including exercise, diet changes, social support and general self-care. Professional counseling can help a person talk through issues that may be at the root of symptoms and is often a good first step prior to pursuing medication in non-dangerous situations.


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