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Safe use of mental health medications

3-minute read

If you have a mental illness such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, part of your treatment is likely to involve medication. Here are some tips for using medication safely.

Types of mental health medication

There are many different medications for mental illness. The most common ones are:

Read more about medication for different mental health conditions.

Responses to medications

People respond differently to particular medications. 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 medication.

Safe use of medications for mental health conditions


Antidepressants take a while to work. It might take up to 6 weeks before you know how effective your medication is. It’s important that you don’t stop taking it without discussion with your doctor.

You might not respond to the first type of antidepressant you try. You and your doctor, nurse or case manager will need to talk about how you feel and what works best for you.

Some people taking antidepressants put on weight. Some feel sleepy. Some feel nauseous. If you feel worse rather than better, contact your doctor, nurse or case manager.

Talk to your doctor, nurse or case manager about the right time to stop the medication. Don’t do it alone.


Quite a few people who take antipsychotics have side effects like putting on weight. Many people taking them don’t like them, but accept that feeling a bit off is better than having psychosis.

If you are prescribed an antipsychotic medication, you will need to visit the doctor for regular checks of your general health, metabolism and physical movement.

Mood stabilisers and anti-anxiety medications

The mood stabiliser lithium might cause serious side effects if you have too much of it in your blood. Make sure you keep regular medical appointments for blood tests to checks on lithium levels.

The anti-anxiety medications called benzodiazepines, can be addictive, so follow instructions about how to take them and how to come off them.

Don’t combine alcohol with benzodiazepines – it can be a dangerous combination.

Taking mental health medication safely

Talk to your doctor, nurse or case manager if you are worried about the risks and side effects of your medication, and also about any changes in your other medications.

And it’s a good idea to keep a medicines list so you can easily keep track of what you’re taking.

Non-medication treatments for mental health conditions

Medications alone are not enough. You should also talk to your doctor, nurse or case manager about:

Last reviewed: March 2018

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