Psychopharmacology the easy way

psychopharmacologyPsychopharmacology is possibly the most interesting subset of pharmacology simply because the conditions these meds treat are absolutely fascinating. But the problem is, there are a ton of them…and keeping them straight can be difficult! Never fear, Nurse Mo is here! I’ve compiled a few tidbits for keeping those psych meds all straightened out in your fabulous brain.

Step 1: Have a general understanding of the conditions each med treats. This will take you beyond memorization to actual understanding. When you understand information, it has a tendency to move into long-term memory rather than jump out of your skull as soon as you hit “submit” on your exam.

Step 2: Learn about each type of medication as a group…study the atypical antidepressants together, the traditional antidepressants together and so on and so forth. The reason for this is that drugs of a particular class will share some common characteristics.

Step 3: Make up goofy mnemonics and acronyms to help you remember which drugs go into which class. For example, the mnemonic I used to help me remember the atypical antipsychotics was “All Good Zoos Save Rare Cats.” This equated to Abilify, Geodon, Zyprexa, Seroquel, Risperdal and Clozapine (Case in point, I am writing this post 5 years after I made up this mnemonic and I could recite 4 of the 6 off the top of my head. 5 years!!! Not bad!)

Step 4: Learn the side effects that are associated with each class of drug. My method involved making up ridiculous stories that I actually recited to myself (quietly, to myself!) during the exams. For example, here is one for the traditional antidepressants. The underlined and bolded words are the key words in the story. Try not to make fun of me.

A very traditional man became depressed when his dog B.C.* ran away. He ran through the neighborhood, and worked up quite a sweat. His heart raced, and as he searched for his dog, he realized that for the first time in years he wasn’t thinking about sex. This realization stopped him dead in his tracks, and his heart slowed. As he stood there, mouth dry and muscles twitching from the exertion, he saw B.C. trying to urinate on a fat lady’s lawn. He ran to his dog and scooped him up, dizzy with happiness. He danced around the yard with graceful rhythm, until he stepped in a pile of dog poo. “BC”, he exclaimed. “I thought you were constipated!” He flailed around the yard trying to get the poo off his shoe as the fat lady watched from her window. She was convinced the traditional man who was flailing about on the lawn was having a seizure or a stroke. (*B.C. = blood cell)

So, from this silly little scenario you can see that the traditional antidepressants (also known as tricyclic antidepressants) cause some pretty unpleasant side effects:

  • Decrease in white and red blood cell production
  • Sweating
  • Tachycardia or Bradycardia
  • Low libido
  • Dry mouth
  • Twitching muscles
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Weight gain
  • Dizziness
  • Altered heart rhythm leading to QT prolongation
  • Constipation
  • Seizures
  • Stroke
  • …and there are probably others as we learn more about these drugs!

For my Mental Health Nursing course I made up goofy stories for all the drug classes, which you can find here. But, if you have the time I encourage you to make your own as you’ll be able to remember them that much more readily when the time comes.

Good luck and be safe out there!

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