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Psychiatric medication

Explains what psychiatric drugs are, what to know before taking them, and information on side effects and coming off medication.

What types of psychiatric medication are there?

The main types of psychiatric medication are:

  • antidepressants
  • antipsychotics
  • sleeping pills and minor tranquillisers
  • lithium and other mood stabilisers.

Antidepressants

Antidepressants are usually prescribed to help with moderate or severe depression. This may include experiencing depression as part of another mental health problem.

You might also be offered antidepressants if you experience anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or eating problems.

See our pages on antidepressants for more information, including our A to Z list of antidepressant medications.

Antipsychotics

Antipsychotics may be prescribed to reduce the symptoms of:

They are sometimes also prescribed if you are experiencing bipolar disorder. This is because they can help control hypomania and mania.

See our pages on antipsychotics for more information, including our A to Z list of antipsychotic medications.

Sleeping pills and minor tranquillisers

These drugs may be prescribed to help you sleep if you experience severe insomnia (difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep). Or you may be offered them if you experience severe anxiety, to help you feel calm. You may hear them called anti-anxiety drugs if they are used to help with anxiety.

See our pages on sleeping pills and minor tranquillisers for more information, including our A to Z list of sleeping pills and minor tranquillisers.

Lithium and other mood stabilisers

These drugs can help stabilise your mood if you experience extreme mood swings. For example, you may be offered them if you are diagnosed with bipolar disorder. If you take them for a longer period, they can also reduce the risk of symptoms returning in future.

These drugs may also be prescribed for hypomania and mania. Or they may be offered for some cases of severe depression or schizoaffective disorder.

See our pages on lithium and other mood stabilisers for more information. 

"With the help of medication I can now manage the extremes, which is helping me live a more balanced and productive life."

Will I be offered medication for my mental health? 

Whether or not you are offered medication for your mental health is likely to depend on:

  • what mental health problems you are diagnosed with
  • what your symptoms are
  • how severely your mental health problem affects you.

There are many different types of mental health treatment to help you cope with your symptoms. You may be offered other treatments instead of medication. Or you may be prescribed medication at the same time as another treatment, such as a talking therapy.

How long might I need to take medication for?

This depends on what mental health problems you experience, and how severely they affect your life.

For some mental health problems, you might only take medication for a short, specific period of time. For example, this may be to help with an episode of psychosis or if you have difficulty sleeping.

For other problems, you might take medication for a longer period. This could be if you have repeated problems with your mental health. Or if there is a significant risk that your symptoms will return if you stop taking medication. For example, you may take medication for a longer period if you are diagnosed with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

Your GP or psychiatrist should regularly review your treatment with you. They should do this even if you have taken medication for a long time. This is to make sure it is still the best option for you.

"I managed with medication until a therapist was available, and then started a course of CBT."

Where can I find out more about psychiatric medication?

Anyone who prescribes you medication should be able to give you information about your treatment. Your pharmacist can also provide lots of information about medication. 

These websites allow you to search for detailed information about a specific medication:

This information was published in March 2021. We will revise it in 2024.

References are available on request: email our info team.

If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.

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