There are many energy and brain wellness options in the supplement aisle in drug, grocery, health, and vitamin stores. Some even tout “cures” for depression and other mental health issues. But are there over-the-counter mental health medications that may help ease some symptoms? Do they work? What are some of their effects?
Overview of Over-the-Counter Mental Health Medications
Non-prescription mental health remedies are another way to refer to over-the-counter mental health medications. And millions of Americans are desperate to find relief from symptoms of anxiety or depression without resorting to prescription drugs. They’re looking for self-help options for mental health and wellbeing that are safe and effective.
Extensive research into the benefits and risks of OTC supplements for mental health is ongoing. Many clinical trials are conducted to assess the overall effectiveness of these supplements and remedies before recommending them. Some, however, have demonstrated moderate to robust success in mitigating mental health symptoms in some populations.
OTC Supplements and Remedies for Mental Health
What are some of the common OTC supplements for mental health? Are some over-the-counter mental health medications better than others for certain conditions like depression and anxiety? Here is a look at some of the more commonly used non-prescription mental health remedies and supplements available.
Women seeking OTC supplements for mental health, particularly those thought to improve menopausal symptoms, may turn to the herbal alternative black cohosh instead of estrogen and progesterone hormone replacement therapy. Research finds that black cohosh extract is good for anxiety and depression without many side effects.
Many people consume chamomile tea for its calming effects. Research points to good effects in mild to moderate generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). As for how chamomile may help in managing anxiety and depression, further studies are necessary to confirm substantial mental health benefits. However, chamomile offers better relief from depressive symptoms than a placebo.
The anticoagulant and antiplatelet properties in chamomile may increase bleeding risk in those using blood thinners, like Warfarin and Eliquis.
Ginseng, a supplement used in Chinese medicine to boost energy and mental acuity and reduce stress, is also thought to help with low motivation and energy during depression. However, studies of ginseng show that the results lack sufficient quality to recommend it.
It is popular as an essential oil to increase relaxation and help reduce mood and anxiety disturbances. Some studies find that lavender may reduce anxiety and help improve sleep. As for lavender’s effect on anxiety, the results are mixed. Its effects are comparable to the prescription medications lorazepam and paroxetine for anxiety. Still, there is scant evidentiary support for its use in treating ongoing depression.
Like chamomile, lavender may increase bleeding risk among those using blood-thinning medications.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
There is scientific evidence that omega-3 fatty acids play a crucial role in overall good health. Eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids like salmon and other seafood, nuts, seeds, and certain plant oils is highly recommended. When they’re not available, consuming supplemental omega-3 is a good strategy.
According to some research, omega-3 may help improve depression symptoms. The FDA recommends 3 grams daily unless your doctor approves higher amounts. This supplement may cause stomach upset in some individuals. The use of omega-3 OTC supplements for mental health may further increase blood-thinner medication effects.
Passionflower has a long history of use by Native Americans for anxiety and improving sleep. When consumed in tea, passionflower may improve mental symptoms as an adjuvant treatment with clonidine during opioid withdrawal.
Another of the over-the-counter mental health medications with promising effects on mental well-being is saffron, long used in Ayurvedic medicine. The effects are especially helpful in depression because saffron acts fast and appears to produce positive results. Other studies have found saffron good for those with stress, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Saffron relieves symptoms of mild anxiety, similar to the prescription medication fluoxetine. It also works well to improve symptoms associated with premenstrual syndrome.
Side effects may include allergic reactions, an increase in impulsiveness and excitability (a potential risk for those with bipolar disorder), and risks to pregnant and breastfeeding women.
Noted for its calming effects, the herb valerian is often consumed in a tea form. Many people use it as a short-term sleep aid. In those with anxiety, the effects are similar to diazepam for sleep, comparable to oxazepam.
Side effects include drowsiness, headache, dizziness, upset stomach, vivid dreams, and a mental fuzziness or dullness. Drug interactions may occur with other sleep aids (alprazolam), sedatives, and medications changed by the liver.
Why take vitamin C for mental well-being? Demonstrated mental health benefits from vitamin C include mood improvement reduced anxiety, a calming effect, some cognitive improvements, and stable emotions.
Similar to the mental health benefits of vitamin C, vitamin B helps improve mood, supports better brain functioning, and boosts energy levels. Various B supplements include B6, B9, and B12.
Magnesium, a micronutrient, is another of the popular OTC supplements for mental health. It helps reduce anxiety and stress, regulates neurotransmitters, and calms the brain. Evidence exists that magnesium can be beneficial for conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, and depression.
Ashwagandha and Other OTC Medications: Use With Caution
Researchers found ashwagandha and black cumin ineffective in relieving depression and anxiety. Other supplements commonly used by people as mental health aids either show minimal results in relieving mental health symptoms or have mild to significant side effects and drug interactions.
- St. John’s Wort — The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) says that this supplement doesn’t provide consistent depression relief. It shouldn’t replace seeing a medical professional for treating depression. Side effects include confusion, constipation, dizziness, dry mouth, and gastrointestinal issues. Do not take St. John’s wort with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or other prescription medications that increase serotonin. Drug interactions with HIV medications may be severe.
- Kava — There is some evidence that Kava extract may help treat GAD, stress, insomnia, and depression, especially in peri- and postmenopausal women. While generally considered safe to use short-term, long-term use risks catastrophic liver damage. Those with compromised liver function should not use kava due to cancer chemotherapy.
- SAMe — The synthetic form of a naturally occurring chemical in the body, SAMe stands for S-adenosyl methionine. A research review of randomized controlled clinical trials found no significant difference between SAMe and placebo in treating adults with depression. Yet, the effects of SAMe were similar to antidepressants escitalopram or imipramine. It was determined to be better than a placebo when used with SSRI medications. While SAMe is an approved prescription antidepressant supplement in Europe, the FDA has not approved it for this purpose in the United States.
- 5-HTP — There is some indication that 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan) supplementation may prove helpful to regulate and improve brain serotonin levels. The supplement has been tested in animal studies with a view toward potential use as an antidepressant. Yet, there is limited evidence of therapeutic use in humans. Available as one of the over-the-counter mental health medications, excessive use of 5-HTP may result in serotonin syndrome.
Self-Help Options for Mental Health Management
It is understandable to want OTC alternatives to prescription medication. Self-help options for mental health are widely used. Yet, you can help manage your mental health with these mental health tips:
- Increase exercise.
- Get adequate sleep.
- Engage in relaxation techniques such as massage, deep breathing, Pilates, yoga, and meditation.
- Maintain a healthy diet with regular, nutritious meals and plenty of hydration.
- Stay positive and keep a hopeful outlook.
- Be grateful for the good things in your life.
- Connect with family and friends.
- Stay active and engaged in life.
Understanding OTC Alternatives to Prescription Medication
With the plethora of over-the-counter mental health medications, how do you choose? It’s essential to have a good working knowledge of these non-prescription mental health remedies. This includes knowing their risks, potential side effects, and possible interactions with other prescription medications.
While information is readily available online about the many OTC supplements for mental health, you shouldn’t have to go it alone. Do your research, yet rely on the expertise of your doctor, psychiatrist, or other mental health professional before you take any of these self-help options for mental health.
Seek Help When Necessary
If mental health issues become unmanageable, or if stress, depression, anxiety, insomnia, and other distressing symptoms increase, seek professional help. Our mental health experts at Restore-Mental Health are always available to discuss our programs and how treatment may help. Contact us anytime for a confidential discussion.