Best of Mental Health 2022: It’s My Meds

You take mental health medications to feel better…but sometimes they make other stuff worse. These allies can help alleviate some of the side effects.

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Isn’t it ironic, Alanis Morrissette once asked, that you take psychiatric meds to upgrade your mental health only to have them bedevil your physical health? Oh wait…. That wasn’t in the song? No bother. It’s still more ironic than 10,000 spoons when all you need is a knife.

The side effects of your medications can range from mild to bothersome to downright intolerable, and vary from pill to pill and person to person. Always talk to your doctor about what you’re experiencing, as they may be able to prescribe something less problematic for you. Meanwhile, our friendly helpers are here to assist.

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Moisturizers for Dry Eyes

The eyes: Not just the windows to your soul…but to the prescriptions you’re taking. According to the Review of Optometry journal, eyes are the second most common place in the body (behind the liver) where drug issues appear. And psychiatric meds—including SSRIs, SNRIs, tricyclic antidepressants, some antipsychotics, and certain mood stabilizers (often used for bipolar disorder)—are no exception. They can mess with the production and flow of tears and irritate your eyes.

It’s important to treat dryness and irritation when you first notice it, but what it usually comes down to? “It’s always about compresses and tears!” Amy Zguta, M.D., an ophthalmologist at Boone Hospital Center in Columbia, Missouri, jokingly tells her patients. “I typically recommend warm compresses to help with the quality of the tears, and lubricating drops/artificial tears to help with the quality.” Dryness, she says, can start out with redness, but if you’re having vision changes, pain, or light sensitivity, see an eye-care doc immediately.

Moisturizing Eye Drops
Systane Ultra PF Lubricant Eye Drops, $14.79

If you’re dealing with dry eye, don’t cry! Many artificial tears are here to help…perhaps too many? “The pharmacy shelf is pretty intimidating!” says Dr. Zguta. “Systane Ultra is an excellent starting-off point.” Indeed, in a study published in Clinical Ophthalmology, Systane provided patients with significant relief of moderate dryness. 

One Mental writer who takes antidepressants has been using these over-the-counter drops for three years. “My eyes are so dry that the morning light hurts them,” she says. “Sometimes I have to be in my dark bathroom to even open my eyes all the way to put these drops in.” Fortunately, they solve the problem fast, and she’s on with her daylit-day in no time. If your dry eye is more extreme, talk to your ophthalmologist about prescription options.

Moisturizing Eye Mask
Bruder EyeCompress Moist Heat, $18.95

This heat-up eye mask probably won’t make a cameo on the ‘gram, unless you appreciate its slight Blade Runner vibes. But no matter—it’s amazing. Throw it in the microwave for 20 seconds, adjust the velcro strap so there’s firm pressure on your eyes, and lie down for 10 minutes. “The first minute, when it’s piping hot, it’s like a steam bath for your eyeballs,” says one reader with OCD who takes SSRIs, whose ophthalmologist recommended the Bruder mask for her dry eye. “The flow of tears that coated my eyes when I took off the mask was the most satisfying feeling, and practically a mental release, too.” Plus, says Dr. Zguta, “compresses have been shown to decrease depression, and treating dry eye can also help decrease migraines.” This one is reusable and hand-washable.

If your eyes are also crusting, Dr. Zguta recommends a warm compress with a wet washcloth instead. “The water will help clean off any debris and can help decrease the normal bacteria that can overgrow with inflammation,” she says.

Moisturizers for Dry Mouth

The mouth is a wet place, so it’s odd when it’s suddenly…not. “To add insult to injury, much of the time patients with depressive disorders or who may be experiencing even short-term depression can experience dry mouth from either the depression itself or the medication taken to treat it,” says dentist Rhonda Kalasho, D.M.D., CEO of TruGlo Modern Dentistry in California. And it’s not just a funny feeling: Dry mouth can also negatively impact your oral health. The answer is staying hydrated…and using products that help with saliva flow. So here we go!

Mouthwash for Dry Mouth
Biotène Dry Mouth Oral Rinse, $9.84

“One of the best mouthwashes on the market that has been shown to have a real impact on counteracting [dry mouth from medication use] is Biotène,” says dentist Marina Gonchar, D.M.D., orthodontist and co-owner of the Skin to Smile practice in Morristown, New Jersey. It has a range of ingredients that can stimulate salivary production, including phosphate, chloride, and disodium phosphate.”

Biotène’s alcohol- and sugar-free formula is also reco’d by the Mayo Clinic for dry mouth, and peeps on Amazon love the stuff, giving it 4½ stars out of 20k ratings. One, who talks about trying numerous options for constant dry mouth, concludes that “Biotène is the only one that’s been able to deliver thus far. First, it does stop dry mouth for at least a couple of hours. Second, it has a fresh, minty taste that actually tastes and smells GOOD! I cannot tell you the number of products that have an unappealing, chemical, or simply disgusting taste.”

It also appears to be a fave of medical-marijuana users. Writes one: “I suffer from severe dry mouth after consumption [of medical cannabis]. This product helps to squash that little issue almost instantly.” *adds to cart*

Xylitol Mints for Dry Mouth
PÜR Mints, $3.99 for 1 bag; Variety Pack, $14.99 for pack of 5 flavors

“Getting the salivary flow in the mouth is just as important as brushing and flossing the teeth,” says Dr. Kalasho. Sucking on a lozenge can trigger saliva production, but it should be sugar-free. That’s where the sugar substitute xylitol comes in. “Xylitol doesn’t allow bacteria to break down and release acids that essentially lead to cavities,” she says. “So the benefit of xylitol is that it’s sweet, but it’s not cavity-causing. Having something that’s sweet and not cavity-causing as a lozenge is really great because it increases the salivary flow in your mouth, making it less dry, which [itself] is protective against cavities, and the xylitol is still tasty.”

PÜR’s mints, which come in five flavors (including tangerine, if you’re not in your mint era), check all the right boxes. And they’re kinda cute, too.

Vaginal Lubricants

Do ya mind if we just call them “lubes” from here on out? Ok, now that that’s out of the way, here’s the thing you already know: Antidepressants don’t just dry up your eyes and mouth—they can deplete your natural lube down below. Same for antipsychotics, which can be prescribed for major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, autism, and schizophrenia. In fact, one study called sexual dysfunction, including decreased vaginal lubrication, one of “the most distressing side effects of antipsychotics.”

Whichever meds you take, all this moisture-sapping makes the sack a whole lot less fun. Talk to your doctor about bigger-picture solutions, but in the meantime, these lubes can help reduce some frustration and enhance the slip.

Water-Based
Dame Aloe Lube, $18

Water-based lubes feel light and non-sticky, so they’re a great go-to for nearly everyone—which is why your ob/gyn likely keeps a gallon-size bottle of the stuff next to their exam table. Plus, they rinse off easily once playtime is over. (We see you, overthinkers who pre-stress about mess.) Some versions include glycerin, which you should avoid, as it can lead to an overgrowth of yeast and increase your odds of a yeast infection, says Michelle Tham Metz, M.D., an ob/gyn in private practice in New Zealand and a former assistant clinical professor at NYU and assistant professor at The George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C. 

This organic lube is one is our faves because it’s water-based (from organic aloe vera), free of glycerin, gives lasting glide, and won’t break down condoms or toys. Bonus: The bottle is small enough to pump one-handed. Just sayin’.

Oil-Based
Coconu Oil-Based Organic Personal Lubricant, $25

If you want super-slip, lubes with a coconut oil base are the ideal natural alternative to thick, messy silicone lubes. This one is spiked with a blend of oils (sunflower, almond, kukui) as well as shea and cocoa butters, so it’s uber–moisturizing and stays slick. It also makes a surprisingly sensual massage oil—what better way to get in the mood? Organic, USDA-Certified, and petroleum-free, it won’t degrade condoms or silicone sex toys like some oil-based lubes. In fact, the stuff is edible (fans of oral, take note). 

Orgasm Toy
Lelo Sona 2 Cruise Sonic Clitoral Massager, $112

In a battle of the acronyms, SSRIs often fight the big O. According to a Mayo Clinic meta-analysis, about 42 percent of women taking an SSRI have issues with orgasming, and the study authors suggest “vibratory stimulation” as a treatment strategy. This lil’ clit-focused massager may be a better solution than a typical vibe. “Many more women are able to have an orgasm with this type of clitorial stimulation, which mimics oral sex, vs a straight vibrator,” says Dr. Metz.

It doesn’t have a weird little tongue or anything—it relies on sonic pulses to stimulate the internal part of the clit instead of concentrating vibrations on one small area. (Ever go numb while using a traditional vibe? That’s why.) It’s got 12 pattern settings from gentle to powerful and “cruise control” tech so sensation remains just as intense if you press it hard against the body. It’s waterproof, so you can bring it in the shower, and the high-end silicone is “easily disinfected to minimize yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis,” says Dr. Metz. Most importantly, one reader with depression swears it takes her less than three minutes to climax with this device, compared to about 45 minutes—if she’s lucky—without it.

Anti-Nausea Mini Diffuser
AethereoSticks in Ginger, Peppermint, and Un-Nausea, $7 each

“GI side effects such as nausea are relatively common with antidepressants,” says Julia Frew, M.D., assistant professor of psychiatry and vice chair of education, department of psychiatry, at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center. If you’re silently screaming “it me!” we’ve got something that might help. Research shows that the scents of ginger and peppermint essential oils can fight nausea. In one study in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, both oils reduced how often and how severe nausea was in people with various health conditions. A 2021 study in the Journal of Holistic Nursing showed that peppermint oil was more effective at diminishing nausea in hospitalized patients than aromatherapy + anti-nausea medication combined. Another study that year, published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine, found peppermint oil worthy—one drop applied between upper lip and nose, three times a day—after chemotherapy in cancer patients.

And in yet another study conducted by researchers at the Providence St. Joseph Health Digital Commons, 88 percent of people reporting nausea who used a ginger inhaler stick reported a nausea decrease, and 72 percent percent no longer required anti-nausea meds. The study used Ginger AethereoSticks, which are like tiny, portable diffusers. They also come in Peppermint and Un-Nausea, a blend of peppermint, ginger, and other oils used in aromatherapy for digestive issues. In the Ginger AethereoStick study, people held the mini inhaler ½ to 1 inch below the nose, inhaled slowly for a count of five, slowly breathed out for a count of five, and repeated the process two more times. 

Nausea often improves with time as the body adapts to the medication, says Dr. Frew, but you can also try sucking on hard candies or chewing gum. “Sugar-free options may be better for teeth, but consuming large amounts of sugar-free candy can actually cause GI distress because the sugar substitutes can be hard to digest,” she says. “In terms of flavor, some people find ginger or peppermint soothing, while others prefer lemon or other citrus.” If you’re having persistent gastrointestinal issues related to your antidepressants, talk to your doctor about alternative medication options.

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Check Out Our Other Best of Mental Health 2022 Categories

I Just Cried (or: I Couldn’t Sleep)

Bring Me Balance

Oh, Crap, I Have to Go Somewhere

Don’t Tell Me to Calm Down (But I Probably Should)

Block Out Distractions 

Keep My Hands Busy

Quick Clean

Help Me Stop Picking

All Up In My Feelings

MOISTURIZERS FOR DRY EYES
Eye-Related Side Effect of Psychiatric Medications: https://www.reviewofoptometry.com/article/the-minds-eye-ocular-complications-of-psychotropic-medications

Dry Eye and Antidepressants: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26075491/

Dry Eye and Anti-Schizophrenia Medications: https://www.reviewofoptometry.com/article/the-minds-eye-ocular-complications-of-psychotropic-medications

Systane For Moderate Dryness: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2694005/

MOISTURIZERS FOR DRY MOUTH
Mayo Clinic and Biotène: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dry-mouth/expert-answers/dry-mouth/faq-20058424

VAGINAL LUBRICANTS
Antidepressants and Lubrication: https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(16)30302-0/pdf

Sexual Dysfunction and Antipsychotics:
https://www.medsafe.govt.nz/profs/PUArticles/March2015SexualDysfunctionAntidepressantsAndAntipsychotics.htm

ORGASM TOY
Sexual Dysfunction, SSRI Use, Depression, and Vibratory Stimulation: https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(16)30302-0/pdf

MINI ANTI-NAUSEA DIFFUSER
Peppermint and Ginger to Reduce Nausea and Vomiting in Various Health Conditions: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22784340/

Peppermint Essential Oil to Reduce Nausea in Hospitalized Patients: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32985338/

Peppermint Oil to Reduce Nausea in Cancer Patients: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0965229920318549

Ginger AethereoStick and Nausea Reduction: https://digitalcommons.psjhealth.org/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1000&context=stvincent-bootcamp

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