Psychiatric medications influence the brain chemicals (neurotransmitters and more broadly hormones) that regulate emotions and thought patterns. They’re usually more effective when combined with psychotherapy. In some cases, medicines can reduce symptoms so other methods of a treatment plan can be more effective. For example, a medication can ease symptoms of depression like loss of energy and lack of concentration, allowing an individual to engage more in talk therapy.

However, predicting who will respond to what medication can be difficult because different medications may work better for one person than for another. Doctors usually review clinical records to see if evidence exists for recommending one medicine over another. They also consider family history and side effects when prescribing medication.

Medications for mental illness are generally safe and effective when used as prescribed.   As with any medication, however, side effects may occur. Research shows that medications like antipsychotics, lithium and antidepressants can actually protect brain cells from damage caused by brain illnesses like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Some medications may also suppress immune function, causing liver injury, and decreasing kidney function of long term use. It’s always important to research the medications you may be using.

Medication doesn’t always work immediately, some medication (like anti-depressants) can take up to 6 months for your body to adjust to, and 6 months to wean your body off of it. Sometimes you will have to try different dosages and different medications to find the right fit for you, and sometimes medications aren’t useful for some people. 

Possible Uses 

  • Major disorders, including mood disorders
  • Major depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders.

Further reading and resources
PsychCentral: Common side effects
NAMI: Additional links in panel answer specific questions re medication
Kelty Mental Health: Medication topics and FAQs
NIMH: Detailed information on classifications of medication
Behavioural Health Evolution: Medication use in varying scenarios