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Medication does not usually cure mental illness. But there are lots of different medications that are designed to help reduce symptoms. Here are the main ones.

What types of medication are there?

There are four main types of medication.

  • Antidepressant medications are used to treat symptoms of depression and other mood disorders.
  • Antipsychotic medications are used to treat symptoms of psychosis, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
  • Benzodiazepines are used to treat feelings of severe anxiety in the short term.
  • Mood stabilisers are used to help manage extreme mood changes, such as those associated with bipolar disorder and sometimes borderline personality disorder.

If you have different symptoms, you may need to take more than one type of medication.

Medication usually comes as a tablet, a liquid, or a slow release injection called a depot injection.

Some people take medication for a short period of time. Others might have to take medication for several years, or even longer.

Not all medications are suitable for people under 18. You should talk to your doctor about the best option for you.

Should I take medication?

Medication can be very effective – but you might experience some unwanted side effects too. It can take some time to find the right balance. Rethink has some information on managing side effects.

You might find that medication reduces your symptoms, which in turn helps you to get the most out of talking therapy. Or it might be helpful to take while you are waiting for more support.

Not everyone wants to take medication. It’s up to each of us to decide whether the benefits of medication outweigh the side effects.


What are some common side effects of psychiatric medication?

Here are some common side effects of different types of medication. The patient information leaflet you get with your medication should tell you all the known side effects.

Common side effects of antidepressant medication

  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Insomnia.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Sexual difficulties (loss of sex drive and/or difficulty reaching orgasm).
  • Dry mouth.
  • Drowsiness.

Different types of antidepressant medication may cause different side effects. The NHS website lists more possible side effects of antidepressant medication.


Common side effects of antipsychotic medication


  • Stiffness and shakiness.
  • Feeling restless.
  • Sleepiness and slowness.
  • Weight gain.
  • Constipation.
  • Blurred vision.

Different types of antipsychotic medication may cause different side effects. Rethink lists more possible side effects of antipsychotic medication.

Common side effects of benzodiazepines

  • Drowsiness and sleepiness
  • Dizziness
  • Feeling unsteady on your feet

Rethink also lists rare side effects of benzodiazepines.

Common side effects of mood stabilisers

  • Upset stomach
  • Shaking/hand movements/tremors.
  • Feeling thirsty and needing to go to the toilet more.
  • Weight gain.
  • Hair loss or unusual hair growth.
  • Drowsiness.

Different types of mood stabilisers may cause different side effects. Rethink has more detail about the different side effects caused by different mood stabilisers.


Is psychiatric medication addictive?

Most psychiatric medication is not addictive. This means you do not have to take more and more to get the same effect.

But you may get withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking medication. These might be physical symptoms like aching muscles and nausea. They might be difficulties with mood like agitation, irritability and anxiety. For some of us these will be quite mild. For others they will be difficult to live with, sometimes for a long time.

Many withdrawal symptoms are similar to symptoms of mental illness. You might find it hard to work out whether you are experiencing withdrawal symptoms or a relapse. Mind has some more information that might help.

It can be dangerous to stop medication suddenly. You are less likely to experience difficult withdrawal symptoms or relapse if you cut down very slowly. Always discuss stopping medication with your doctor.

I have just started taking medication and it’s making me feel worse

Some medication can take a while to start working or even make us feel worse before it starts to help us feel better. For example, some antidepressants and antipsychotics can increase suicidal feelings when we first start taking them.

If medication is making us feel a lot worse, or these feelings go on a long time, we should talk to the person who prescribed it to us.

What are the alternatives to medication?

Talking therapies are treatments that involve talking to a professional about our thoughts, behaviours, experiences, feelings and the ways we cope with our symptoms. There are lots of different types.

Complementary therapies can be used alongside talking therapy or medication. They include things like mindfulness, massage, yoga and some types of art or eco therapy.

Many of us find that taking medication at the same time as talking therapy or other treatments is most effective.

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