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Taking medications for mental illness: What you need to know

Prescription medicines are often part of an effective treatment plan for mental illness, but they won't work well if they're not taken properly.

Mental illness is not something made up in your head. It's a real medical problem and often has real physical causes.

Researchers believe that mental illness can be caused by a chemical imbalance in your brain, your genes and family history, and environmental stresses, according to Mental Health America.

Psychiatric medications are typically most effective when they're part of an overall treatment program. They can reduce symptoms by acting on the brain chemicals that regulate emotions and thought patterns, allowing you to engage more easily in talk therapy.

Before you start

For a medication to work properly, it's important that you follow your doctor's directions when using it. Before taking a new medication, make sure to tell your doctor if you:

  • Are allergic to any foods or drugs.
  • Are taking any other medications.
  • Are pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Have diabetes, kidney, liver or heart disease.
  • Are on a special diet or taking any supplements.
  • Use tobacco or alcohol.

Remember safety

Safety remains important after you start using a medication. Once you're taking a medication, make sure you:

  • Follow your doctor's directions.
  • Ask your doctor or pharmacist what the medication will do to you.
  • Read and follow the directions on the medication label.
  • Ask your pharmacist or doctor if you have any questions.
  • Talk to your doctor before changing your medication dosage.
  • Tell your doctor if you have side effects.
  • Work with your doctor to taper off the medication properly when you stop.

Reviewed 5/17/2023

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This information is provided for educational purposes only. Individuals should always consult with their healthcare providers regarding medical care or treatment, as recommendations, services or resources are not a substitute for the advice or recommendation of an individual's physician or healthcare provider. Services or treatment options may not be covered under an individual's particular health plan.