Published on October 10, 2023

Sedation and Mental Health: A Complex and Bidirectional Relationship

Healthcare professionals use sedation to reduce a patient’s awareness of the environment and decrease their responsiveness to external stimulation. It induces calmness and relaxation during medical procedures and helps treat pain and anxiety. Therefore, sedation can be used in various clinical settings, such as before surgeries and dental procedures.

The WHO (World Health Organization) defines mental health as “a state of mental well-being that enables people to cope with the stresses of life, realize their abilities, learn well and work well, and contribute to their community.” Since mental health enables people to cope with stress, and sedation directly affects the brain and central nervous system (CNS), they should be linked. Safe sedation training will ensure that doctors and other healthcare professionals are well-equipped to handle the effects sedation might have on mental health.

Sedation and Its Effects on Mental Health

Sedation has become valuable for medical procedures to relieve physical stress, pain, and anxiety. Sedatives function by changing certain nerve communications in the CNS, which slows down brain activity by increasing gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) neurotransmitters. This, in turn, makes a person drowsy and calm. Common types of sedatives include benzodiazepines (like diazepam or Valium and alprazolam or Xanax) and barbiturates such as phenobarbital and pentobarbital.

Those who may benefit from prescription sedatives the most are patients with PTSD, bipolar disorder, and seizures. Healthcare professionals may also administer or prescribe sedatives to people with insomnia, anxiety disorders, and muscle spasms. 

However, there are possible side effects from the use and misuse of these medications. They can include poor concentration, memory issues, concentration difficulties, impaired depth and distance perception, light-headedness, etc. Thus, these medications must be taken cautiously. 

Also, doctors and healthcare providers should know the potential interactions between medications for mental disorders and sedatives. For example, there can be interactions with antipsychotics, alcohol, opioids, and antidepressants. These could lead to severe consequences such as adverse reactions, increased sedative effects, overdosing, and fatal results. Therefore, familiarity with the available medication and safe sedation training allows for the effective and safe use of these agents.

Mental Health and Its Effects on Sedation

About 10–20% of people have a mental illness, but just 1% have a severe one. These mental health problems interfere with a person’s life and ability to function. People with mental health issues must communicate with their doctor or healthcare provider to find solutions. 

Mental disorders can affect sedative medications. For example, in patients living with schizophrenia, antipsychotic medication before surgery can lead to hypotensive effects of general anesthesia. Stopping antipsychotics may lead to an increase in psychotic symptoms, including agitation and hallucinations. Thus, treating those with severe mental health issues can be challenging, and there are anesthetic considerations for patients with psychiatric disorders. Hence, careful planning is required for patients on antipsychotic medications to prevent any complications.

Patients with mental health issues might turn to these sedatives as a coping mechanism, leading to abuse or misuse. Also, sedatives can be abused for their euphoric effects, but these can have dire consequences. Sedative addiction often results from mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. Some patients take prescribed sedatives incorrectly with the goal of improving sleep, increasing energy levels, or reducing stress. Such patients are in danger of developing tolerance to the sedative more rapidly, which results in dose escalation.

Alternative Options for Managing Mental Health

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, almost one in five adults have a mental illness. Considering the meteoric rise of mental health issues in the past few decades, healthcare providers cannot rely solely on sedatives that can be misused or lead to other complications. Although sedation can be beneficial in certain situations, there is a need for the general population to know how to improve mental health in ways that do not directly require medical therapy.  

The following are some alternative options for managing mental health: 

  • Better diet and regular exercise. 
    • Exercise can improve coping ability, and it alters the levels of serotonin, stress hormones, and endorphins in the brain. It also ensures good sleep and improves a person’s general mood. Poor nutrition can lead to poor moods, while healthy diets like the Mediterranean diet are linked with better mental health.
  • Mindfulness meditation.
    • It combines meditation and mindfulness. Meditation often involves controlling one’s focus, attention, and awareness while ignoring or “tuning out” everything else. Mindfulness practice enables one to pay attention to and accept the present moment.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
    • It is a type of psychotherapy that helps people identify and change unhealthy thoughts and behaviors. 
  • Relaxation techniques
    • These practices allow the person performing the technique to tap into the natural relaxation response. It helps lower blood pressure, muscle tension, and heart rates.  
  • Getting enough sleep
    • The value of good sleep should not be underestimated since poor sleep patterns are linked with stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions. Better sleep leads to improved brain performance, mood, and overall health. 

Final Remark

Further research is still needed to provide insights into this compelling relationship between sedation and mental health and how other non therapy alternatives can help prevent an overreliance on sedatives. 

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