Pharmacological Treatments

Medication for a mental health condition is usually prescribed by a medical professional in conjunction with therapy. Some common treatments for different mental health conditions have been listed below. It often takes 14 or more days for medication to take effect, so it is important that you do not lose hope and remain patient. 


Treatment for depression usually involves the use of three main types of antidepressants. As depression is characterised by low levels of serotonin, such medications aim to increase its availability in the brain. Serotonin regulates emotions, appetite, sleep, memory and sexual desire. 

Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs): increase availability of serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain. Norepinephrine is another chemical that affects mood. 

  • Side effects: Serious side effects include abnormally high blood pressure. Person must then avoid certain food and drinks like beer, red wine and cheeses. MAOIs are usually only used when other drugs are unavailable.

Tricyclic antidepressants: work to keep norepinephrine and serotonin in the body system for longer, helping to elevate mood and relieve some symptoms of depression. 

  • Side effects: Increased suicide risk in first two weeks, dry mouth, blurred vision, tremor, damage to heart muscles.

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs): most common antidepressant, that maintains serotonin in the body for longer periods of time.

  • Side effects: Less serious risks include insomnia, agitation, nausea and sexual dysfunction. However, there is possible risk of suicide especially in children and adolescents.  


The most common medications for anxiety are:

  • Antidepressants: Initially developed to treat depression, but sometimes they can also help in treating anxiety. Antidepressants can be used to restore chemical balance in nerve cells.
  • Beta-blockers: Beta-blockers slow your heart rate when you are in extreme stress, e.g. severe social phobia. However, research suggests it’s ineffectiveness as a long-term solution for treating anxiety.
  • Benzodiazepines: Promote relaxation and reduce tension. However, if used in the long-term, they can reduce alertness, affect coordination, and can be addictive.

Bipolar disorder

There are three main types of medication for Bipolar disorder:

  • Mood stabilisers: used to prevent manic episodes, however given that it contains Lithium, it is easy to become dependent on the drug.
  • Antidepressants: when combined with mood stabilisers, can be effective in preventing manic episodes.
  • Antipsychotics: used for symptoms of psychosis, like hallucinations or delusions.


Medication is usually the primary intervention for schizophrenia. These are called antipsychotics and they ease symptoms such as hallucinations and delusions. Mood stabilisers and antidepressants are also often prescribed. Pharmacological treatments are usually quite effective – only about 10-20% of people continue showing symptoms after taking medication. 

Side effects:

  • Drowsiness
  • Abnormal movements such as facial grimacing, lip smacking, finger tremors, drooling, chewing and twisted posture
  • Weight gain, diabetes, heart disease
  • Blood abnormalities

Like with any illness, doctors and patients must work together to find the best medication, the right dose, and the optimal combination. Remember that everyone is different!