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 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:

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

Last reviewed: April 2020

Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Treatments for mental illness

Is mental illness treatable? Yes, mental illness can be treated. This means that many people who have a mental illness, and are treated, recover well...

Read more on SANE Australia website

Antipsychotic Medication

The best treatment for psychotic illness usually includes a combination of antipsychotic medication, psychological therapy and community support. This pamphlet answers commonly-asked questions about antipsychotic medication (antipsychotics).

Read more on Mi Networks website

Changing antipsychotics – how to choose the best treatment - NPS MedicineWise

A new article published in Australian Prescriber today reminds patients, their families and health professionals that antipsychotic medicines have their place in treating long-term, serious psychiatric illnesses, but swapping antipsychotics might be necessary for some people if they haven’t responded well to the medicine or if they are having unwanted side effects

Read more on NPS MedicineWise website

Antipsychotic medication

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

Read more on SANE Australia website

Medical treatments for depression - Beyond Blue

The main medical treatment for depression is antidepressant medication which can be very useful in treating moderate to severe depression episodes.

Read more on Beyond Blue website

Medical treatments for anxiety - Beyond Blue

Some types of antidepressant medication can help people to manage anxiety, even if they are not experiencing symptoms of depression

Read more on Beyond Blue website

Antidepressant medication

The best treatment for depression may include psychological treatment, medication, and support in the community. While some people may only need psych...

Read more on SANE Australia website

Antidepressant medicines explained - NPS MedicineWise

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

Read more on NPS MedicineWise website

Antidepressant Medication

The best treatment for depression may include psychological treatment, medication, and support in the community. While some people may only need psychological, ‘talking’ treatment, this Factsheet answers commonlyasked questions about antidepressant medication. How do antidepressant medications help?

Read more on Mi Networks website

Antipsychotic medications - Better Health Channel

Read more on Better Health Channel 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 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.