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In some cases, medication – prescribed by a GP or a psychiatrist– can help with mental health issues. Depending on the type of medication you take, it may start to work right away or you may not notice any change for a few weeks. Most medications have side effects, and your doctor or psychiatrist is a good source of information about these, as well as about what benefits you can expect if you decide to take something.

This can help if:

  • you’d like to know more about medication and how it can improve your mental health
  • you’re thinking of taking mental health medication
  • you’re in therapy and wondering if medication might help.
Colourful pill pack

What is medication for mental health?

There are many different medications available to help with different mental health conditions. The best way to get information on medications that may be helpful to you is to talk to your GP or psychiatrist, if you have one. Psychiatrists are the experts in medication and mental health.

Different medications are known to be effective for treating various issues, but it’s important to know that everyone reacts to medications differently. This means that the medications that helped your friend might not necessarily be the most effective ones for you. Your best approach to finding the right treatment for you is to seek support from your doctor. At the end of the day, the decision as to whether or not to take any particular medication will be yours.

How can medication help?

Medications can often take weeks or months before you start to notice a difference in the way you feel. Mental health medication often works like a ‘band-aid’ in that it helps you to heal and feel better in order to get you to a place where you’re able to recognise and work on your issues. (For example, for someone who is severely depressed, medication might help them feel motivated enough to start attending therapy.) Medication on its own is often not the answer; usually, the best results are achieved when medication is combined with therapy sessions with a psychiatrist or psychologist.

What if I want to stop my medication?

It’s very important to talk to your doctor about any changes you make to your medication intake (such as taking more or taking less). Suddenly stopping medication can make you feel worse. People who feel better after taking medication for a while might think they no longer need it and decide to stop. The decision to stop needs to be discussed with a doctor, and is usually planned so that you slowly change the amount you take, rather than stopping it altogether.

There’s no set time period that a person needs to take medication, as it really depends on the reason they’re taking it. For some issues, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, you might need to be on medication for life. But for others, such as depression, your doctor might recommend that you take the prescribed medication until you’ve felt better for a while.

It’s also very important to take only the medication that’s prescribed for you, and only the amount specified on the prescription. Be sure to tell your GP or psychiatrist about any changes you make to the amount you take. Also discuss with them what to do in case you forget to take your medication for a day or two.

What are the side effects of medication?

Again, the best way to learn about side effects for any particular medication is to talk to your GP or psychiatrist. Side effects will vary according to the type of medication and the way it interacts with you. If you experience side effects, they will usually go away when your body becomes accustomed to the medication – which may be a few weeks or might even be months.

Side effects could include feeling nauseous, or having less energy or a dry mouth. The most concerning (but rare) side effect is that some medications can increase thoughts of suicide. If you find that this is happening, see your GP without delay. If you’re feeling unsafe, go to the hospital or call 000.

A common issue with lots of medications is that they can be dangerous to mix with alcohol, drugs or other medications. It’s important to be upfront and honest with your doctor about any drugs or alcohol you take, so that they can help keep you safe.

What can I do now?

  • Read about mental health professionals who can support you, in addition to medication.
  • If you’re experiencing side effects, discuss them with your doctor.
  • Write down a list of questions for your doctor if you’re considering medication.