Promoting mental health, demystifying mental illness, countering stigma and discrimination

How Medication Helps

Taking medication is one of the most important things a person with a serious mental illness can do to help themselves fight against the negative effects of the illness.

Understanding how medication works and making sure the doctor understands how well it is working helps the person with the illness get the best possible benefit from the medication.

How medication works:

Medical research shows that many mental illnesses are associated with changes in our brain chemistry. Certain medications assist the brain to restore its usual chemical balance, so that we feel better. These include anti-psychotic medications (which work on psychotic symptoms such as hearing voices or having paranoid delusions,) and medications that are anti-depressants and mood stabilizers. It is important to combine medication with other treatments and support so that attention is given to aspects of the illness being experienced.

Medications are usually taken in tablet form or by injection. How much is prescribed is not necessarily an indication of how ill the person is. Everyone reacts differently to different medications. Body mass and rate of metabolism may also help determine the amount needed. If the patient or their family/whanau have any concerns about the effects or side effects of medication, discuss them with a health professional. Sometimes there needs to be a trade off between side effects and how well the medication is treating the illness.

Doctors are required to prescribe the most effective medication and ensure any side effects are kept to a minimum. They can only achieve this if they are clearly told of how the medication is working and of any side effects being experienced. With this knowledge the doctor is able to ensure that the right medication and dosages are maintained.

It can be a few weeks before the medication starts to take effect fully and to reduce symptoms.  Once the best medication is determined and symptoms eased, a maintenance dose from then on will help avoid a return of symptoms.

Some people have their medication by injection. These are called depot injections. This means that the medication releases slowly from a muscle to give a continuous effect over time. If a doctor thinks that it is essential for someone to have medication then the person can be legally required, under a compulsory treatment order, to take it in depot form. Others prefer to have a depot injection because it suits them more than tablets, or it is the recommended treatment.

What happens if medication is not taken?

Usually symptoms will reoccur. The more often a person stops taking prescribed medication, the body's ability to fully recover decreases.

What about possible side effects?

Medications can have unwanted side effects, especially at first.

These may include drowsiness, a lowering of blood pressure and Parkinson type reactions (involuntary muscle movement). It is important that the patient and their family/whanau discuss the benefits and any adverse effects of medication with the doctor and nurse. There are special medications that can be prescribed to help control side effects as well as various practical steps (such as taking medication that causes a person to feel drowsy, at night before they go to bed, instead of during the day).

Medication Information Sheets

Taranaki Health Mental Health Services have prepared information sheets on many of the psychiatric medications commonly prescribed.  Please do not hesitate to contact them.

Tel: 06 7536139 ext 7730

Adapted from SANE Australia

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Taranaki Mental Health Sector