Treatments for mental health conditions
You need a prescription for medicines that are used to treat mental illness. Your doctor or a specialist (psychiatrist) can prescribe medicines for your mental health condition if needed.
There are many different medicines that can help treat mental illnesses. The most common ones are:
- antidepressant medicines, which can be used for depression and anxiety
- anti-anxiety medicines
- antipsychotic medicines for illnesses such as schizophrenia
- mood stabilisers (such as lithium) for bipolar disorder
But medicines aren’t the only treatment for mental health conditions. Lifestyle changes and psychological treatments (talking therapy, such as cognitive behaviour therapy) can help treat some conditions. This can be done in combination with medication. And some people may not need any medicines for their condition.
Safe use of medicines for mental health conditions
It can take up to 6 weeks to notice any improvements after starting antidepressants. It’s important that you don’t stop taking any medicines without first talking with your doctor.
You might not respond to the first type of antidepressant medicine you try. You may need to talk with your doctor about the dose or a different type of medicine.
You and your doctor, nurse or case manager will need to talk about how you feel and what works best for you.
Sometimes young people have suicidal thoughts when first taking antidepressant medicines. Anyone taking these medicines needs to have regular check-ups, especially when they first start taking them.
Antipsychotic medicines can help treat the symptoms of psychosis
If you are prescribed an antipsychotic medication, you will need regular check-ups. This is to check for side effects and to check your mental and physical health You may also need to have regular blood tests.
The mood stabiliser lithium can cause serious side effects if you have too much of it in your blood. Make sure you have regular blood tests to check your lithium levels.
Medicines called benzodiazepines are sometimes used to treat anxiety and insomnia. These medicines can be addictive, so it’s important to follow the instructions on how to take them and how to stop taking them.
Don’t combine alcohol with benzodiazepines – it can be a dangerous combination.
Taking mental health medication safely
Before prescribing any medicine, your doctor will want to know about your overall health.
They will also want to know what other medicines you take, including:
- over-the-counter medicines
- complementary medicines
- herbal supplements
People respond differently to medicines. Not every medication works for everybody, and different people have different side effects.
Keep in touch with your doctor, nurse or case manager when you start a new medicine.
Taking your medicine
It’s a good idea to keep a list of your medicines. Or you could use a special container for your medicines with a section for each day. This can help you keep track of what you’re taking and when to take it.
It’s important to take all medicines as prescribed. Check the instructions to find out when and how to take your medicine.
Call the Australian Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26 if you have taken too much of your medicine or if you are worried about missing a dose of your medicine.
Talk to your doctor, nurse or case manager if you are worried about the side effects of your medication.
Sometimes side effects improve over time. And sometimes side effects can be managed by doing simple things, such as changing when you take your medicine.
Talk to your doctor, nurse or case manager about how long you may need to take your medicines.
Some people may not respond to the first type of medicine they try. Your doctor may recommend a change in dose or a different type of medicine if this is the case.
Talk to your doctor about the right time to stop taking any medication. Don’t do it alone. Some medicines need to be stopped gradually – stopping suddenly can make you feel unwell.
Pregnancy and breastfeeding
It’s important to let your healthcare team know if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Also tell them if you’re planning a pregnancy.
Your medicines may need to be adjusted if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
It’s important to have regular check-ups while you are taking medicines for your mental health condition. At these check-ups, your mental and physical health can be checked. You can also talk about any side effects and how to manage them.
What other treatments are there for mental health conditions?
Other types of treatment for mental health conditions include:
- psychological therapy (such as cognitive behaviour therapy and dialectical behaviour therapy)
- lifestyle adjustments
- support programs for help with housing, work, training and education
Support programs are particularly important for people with ongoing symptoms.
Resources and support
ReachOut provides mental health support and information for young people and their parents.
You can also call healthdirect on 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria) to speak to a registered nurse, 24 hours, 7 days a week.
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Last reviewed: August 2022