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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.

Accessing medication during coronavirus

Visit our page on accessing treatment and support during coronavirus if you are concerned about getting medication during the pandemic.

Who can prescribe psychiatric medication?

Your GP or a psychiatrist are the most likely people to prescribe you psychiatric medication. Some nurses and pharmacists may also be qualified to prescribe you medication.

Who prescribes your medication may depend on what type of medication it is and how long you have been taking it. For example, you may be given your first prescriptions by a psychiatrist and monitored by a mental health team. But once you have got used to taking the medication, your GP may be able to give ongoing prescriptions. 

You may also be able to use an online service to order repeat prescriptions for some medications. This means you no longer need to collect a paper prescription to get your medication. But you can still speak to your GP or pharmacist about your medication, such as any side effects you experience.

Depot injections

If you are prescribed depot injections of antipsychotic medication, these will usually be given to you by a healthcare professional in a community setting. For example, this may be in a clinic, health centre or in your own home.

You will never be asked to manage or administer depot injections yourself.

Do I have to pay for prescriptions?

In Wales, prescriptions for medication are free of charge. In England, some people need to pay for prescriptions, while others can get them for free.

The NHS has a tool to check whether you can get help for the costs of any NHS treatment. This includes whether you may be entitled to free prescriptions. It also has a list of people who can get free prescriptions.

If you are not entitled to free prescriptions, it may help to buy a prescription prepayment certificate. These allow you to pre-pay for as many prescriptions as you need for either 3 or 12 months. This can work out cheaper than paying for individual prescriptions, depending on how many prescriptions you need per month.

What if I run out of medication?

If you run out of medication, the person who usually prescribes your drugs may be able to arrange a prescription for you. If that isn’t possible, you can ask a pharmacy for an emergency supply until you can get a prescription.

To get an emergency supply of medication, you must have been prescribed the medicine before. And the pharmacist must agree with the following:

  • You need the medicine immediately.
  • The dose is appropriate for you to take.

The pharmacist usually needs to see you face-to-face. And they usually need evidence that you have been prescribed the medication before. For example, this could be your last box of medication or most recent prescription.

If the pharmacist gives you a prescription, they will make a note of the following details:

  • Your name and address.
  • The nature of the emergency.
  • The date of the emergency supply.
  • The name, quantity, form (such as capsules, tablets or liquid) and strength of the medication.

If the pharmacist can’t prescribe an emergency supply of medication, they can still advise you on how to get any medical care you may need.

The NHS has more information on where you can get an emergency supply of medication. If you need medication outside your GP or pharmacy’s usual hours, the NHS also has information on how to access out-of-hours medication.

Medication shortages

Sometimes there may be shortages of certain medications. Or certain drugs may be discontinued, which means they are no longer produced.

If your medication is affected by a shortage, your pharmacist may be able to contact other pharmacies. They can check if your medication is in stock. It may help to take your prescription to a pharmacy before you actually need the medication. This gives the pharmacist time to order your medication from elsewhere before you run out.

If you are in contact with a mental health service, they may also be able to help you find someone to give you your medication.

If your medication is not available anywhere, you might be offered an alternative drug. For example, this may be the same type of medication, but a different brand. But this isn’t always suitable for everyone.

If you are worried about shortages or whether your medication may not be available, you can discuss this with your GP or pharmacist.

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

References and bibliography available on request.

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