Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Safe use of mental health medicines

7-minute read

If you have a mental illness such as depression, an anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, part of your treatment may involve taking medication.

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:

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

Antidepressant medicines

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

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.

Mood stabilisers

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
  • vitamins

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.

image of medication day to day organiser.

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.

Side effects

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.

Stopping medicines

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.

Regular check-ups

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:

Support programs are particularly important for people with ongoing symptoms.

Resources and support

SANE Australia has support and resources on mental health and different treatments. You can also call the Helpline on 1800 187 263.

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.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use the Question Builder for general tips on what to ask your GP or specialist.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: August 2022

Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Treatments for mental illness

Quick Facts Mental illness can be treated. When you or someone you know starts to feel mentally unwell, the first step in obtaining treatment is to se...

Read more on SANE Australia website

Treatments & Therapies - Finding North

Antidepressant Medication Antidepressant medications are often used to treat depression, anxiety and related mental health conditions

Read more on Finding North website

Antipsychotic medication

Quick facts  Antipsychotic medication can help manage symptoms of psychosis.  Antipsychotic medication can be helpful for some, but may not...

Read more on SANE Australia website

Antipsychotic Medication - Finding North

People experiencing schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder and bipolar disorder often find antipsychotic medications helpful in reducing or eliminating their symptoms.

Read more on Finding North website

Treatments for depression - Beyond Blue - Beyond Blue

Learn about a range of effective treatments for depression, such as therapy and antidepressant medications. What works best will differ for everyone.

Read more on Beyond Blue website

Antipsychotic medications - Better Health Channel

Antipsychotic medications work by altering brain chemistry to help reduce psychotic symptoms like hallucinations, delusions and disordered thinking

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Antidepressant medication

Quick facts Antidepressant medication can help ease symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions They affect brain chemicals ca...

Read more on SANE Australia website

Antidepressant Medication - Finding North

Antidepressant medications are often used to treat depression, anxiety and related mental health conditions.

Read more on Finding North website

Depression: what you need to know

Learn about depression & the treatment options available, including antidepressants & psychotherapy

Read more on NPS MedicineWise website

Medicines for depression and anxiety - NPS MedicineWise

Find out more about antidepressants & your options for medicine & non-medicine treatment of depression.

Read more on NPS MedicineWise website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Queensland Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Victorian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo

Healthdirect Australia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to the Traditional Owners and to Elders both past and present.