What are Injectable Mental Health Drugs?

Theresa Nguyen, Mental Health America
Medications

What’s the benefit? Why should I even try an injectable?

Some people prefer to take medications every day.  If you’re that person – a pill (or oral med) is fine.

If however, you like the medication you’re on, but you forget your meds at times or taking your medication everyday is annoying, an injectable psych med is something to consider. Taking an injectable psych med is similar to choosing an IUD or the Nuvaring instead of taking birth control pills everyday.  Another name for injectable psych meds is Long Acting Injectables or LAI.  The most common LAI is for psychosis.

How do injectables work?

Injectables work by slowly releasing the medication into your body. Some medications attach to fat cells and release drugs slowly.  Other drugs have a carbohydrate chain that wraps around the drug – when the chain breaks down slowly, it releases the meds. Other medication use microsphere or nanocrystals that slowly dissolve and release the drug.

You can’t give yourself an injection to get the medication. If you’re interested in an LAI, you have to see a medical professional who gives you the medication every month.

What about reactions?

Before you can get on an injectable, your psychiatrist will probably want you to be on the oral/pill version for enough time to see if you have any negative side effects from the medication you’ll take.  Once you start to switch over to an injectable version, your doctor will likely check in with you within the week to identify any other issues.  There should be no difference in the support you receive or what you should expect to feel (positive benefits and side effects) between a pill version vs an injectable medication.

The ups and downs of symptoms

One benefit of an injectable is that you’re going to have more consistency on the medication.  If you’re on the pill version and you forget or don’t take your medications you would see a change in how you feel or the symptoms your experiences (voices, visions, paranoia).  The negative experiences of the illness might come back and it takes time for the pill based medication to work again. This on and off again on the pill can be hard.  With an injectable, you’ll have consistency of treatment.  On the flip side, if you have a specific side effect (like tiredness or weight gain) on the oral version, you should expect to see the same side effect with the injectable version.  You should definitely talk to your doctor about your side effects and see what they can do to help make those better. Options include changing the dose of your med – which can be done for both oral and injectable medications.

What if I don’t like my dose?

Injectables also come in different dosages. So, you’ll probably try the pill based version first, work out the side effects, then switch to an injectable, find the right dose there, and work out the side effects again. Finding the right medication and dosage is definitely a process. 

Does it hurt? Is it something that’s forced on me?

If you have an illness like schizophrenia and you get taken to a hospital against your will, the staff at the hospital might give you a forced injection.  This process can be traumatizing.  If this is the only time you’ve experienced an injection, it’s ok to feel afraid.  It’s important to talk to someone about traumatic experiences. When people get injections at the hospital, they also don’t have control over what type of medication they’re given.  You might have had given you an injection of older antipsychotics or a medication that sedates you.  This experience is very different from talking to your doctor in the community about taking an injectable.  In the community, the best treatment is not forced.  Taking an injectable is your choice – and you should come with questions and explore your options.

*The following article was written through interviews with people who know more than we do about this topic…specifically with psychiatrists.

Treatment & Resources