For some people drugs are prescribed as a short term solution to get over an immediate crisis. For other people, drugs are an ongoing, long term treatment that enables them to live with severe and enduring mental health problems. Many people would not choose medication for year, but medication may help some people to lead their chosen lifestyle, without relapses and re admissions to hospital.
Although medication is easier to administer, often with quicker symptom management success, than talking therapies or exercise programmes, most have side effects and people may have problems when they stop taking the medication. Abuse of medication that has been prescribed to treat a mental health problem can cause additional problems.
It is easy to get confused about mental health medication, partly because there are so many different drugs, partly because new drugs are being introduced all the time, and partly because the same drug may be known by several different names the trade name, the generic name or the chemical group name.
Most drugs used in the treatment of mental health problems fall into four main categories: anti anxiety drugs, antidepressants, anti psychotics and mood stabilisers.
Your doctor will consider a number of things when deciding which drug to prescribe.
your symptoms most drugs are designed to treat particular problems or symptoms, for example anxiety or depression.
your reaction and sensitivity to a particular drug or class of drugs. Some drugs work better for some people than others and it may take some time to find the right medication and the right dose for you. Your doctor should monitor and review the drugs s/he prescribes for you to check their usefulness in controlling symptoms and their side effects.
all drugs have side effects and some of them can be unpleasant. Some drugs may also carry an associated risk for example Lithium, which is used to treat bi polar disorder, can be toxic. It is important that you know about any side effects and risks associated with a particular drug and that you tell your doctor if you detect any changes or difficulties in your tolerance of your prescribed medicine.
the cost effectiveness of the drug. Doctors follow the guidance of the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE), which also provides information for the general public on its Website
Questions to ask
You may find it helpful to ask the following questions if your doctor has prescribed you any form of medication.
- what is this drug designed to do? Some drugs may be given to counteract the side effects of other drugs.
- how long will it be before it takes effect? Some drugs take several weeks to have any effect.
- what are the side effects? Some drugs can have unpleasant and worrying side effects.
- how long do I have to take the drug? Some drugs should not be taken for more than a few weeks; some may need to be taken for months or years.
- do I need to take any precautions? Some drugs should not be taken if you plan to drive and some should not be taken in combination with other drugs.
- are there any other ways to treat my condition? How effective are they? Alternatives include talking therapies, complementary therapies and exercise on prescription.
Information on your specific drug prescribed will be contained in the box when you collect them from the pharmacy. You can find out more about individual drugs, correct dosages and side effects from your GP, local hospital pharmacy department or chemist. You can also ask your psychiatrist or mental health team. There is more information on medication on the website of the Royal College of Psychiatrists