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Antipsychotic medications

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Antipsychotic medication (antipsychotics) are medicines that can help ease the symptoms of a psychosis. Psychosis is a mental health condition that affects how the brain works.

There are different types of antipsychotic medications. Sometimes they cause side effects. Talk with your doctor or mental health nurse about what might work best for you.

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What are antipsychotic medications?

Antipsychotic medications are medicines used to treat psychosis. Psychosis is an illness that makes it hard to tell what is real and what isn’t. They may also help anxiety and agitation, and problems with mood, thinking and socialising.

Sometimes you might get psychosis if you already have illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or severe depression. It might cause you to have confused thinking, delusions (where you believe things that aren't real, paranoia (unjustified suspicion or mistrust of others) or hallucinations (where you see, hear, feel, smell or taste things that are not actually there). Antipsychotic medications can help reduce these symptoms, or sometimes even get rid of them.

Antipsychotic medications sometimes work better if you also use psychological therapy (psychotherapy such as cognitive behavioural therapy, given by a psychiatrist or psychologist) and community support.

Types of antipsychotic medications

There are 2 main types of antipsychotic medications:

  • ‘Typical’ antipsychotics, also known as ‘first-generation’ medications, are an older type of medicine that has been used for many years.
  • ‘Atypical’ antipsychotics, or second-generation medications, are newer medicines.

Atypical antipsychotics are used most often, but some people prefer the older medications. It’s best to talk about your options with your doctor, to find out what works best for you.

Most antipsychotics are tablets, which you need to take every day. Others are given by regular injection (called ‘depot’ medication). These release medicine into the body slowly over several weeks. Some people prefer injections so they don’t need to remember to take their tablets.

Benefits of using antipsychotic medication

The main benefit of using antipsychotic medication is to help control the symptoms of psychosis. Usually you will start feeling better within about 6 weeks of starting to take the medication. However, some people feel better within a week and others find it takes months.  

If you are given an antipsychotic and it’s taking a while to work, be patient. It’s very important to talk to your doctor or mental health nurse before stopping or changing your treatment.

Side effects of antipsychotic medications

Antipsychotic medications can cause side effects. Side effects are different for different people.  Some people experience things like:

  • feeling sleepy
  • putting on weight
  • getting stiff muscles or restless movements
  • a dry mouth
  • blurred vision
  • feeling dizzy
  • constipation, nausea or indigestion
  • changes in sexual ability or desire

If you have any concerns about side effects, talk to your doctor or mental health nurse. Often there are things that can be done to reduce or stop them.

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Last reviewed: October 2019

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