A common concern that many people have regards the safety of psychiatric medicines that treat mental health conditions. These include Antidepressants and Antipsychotics.
One of the main safety concerns revolves around long-term use and if a person will ever come off of the medicine – along with whether or not it will leave lasting effects.
The reality is that for most people that take psychiatric medicine will only do so for a few months or a couple of years at most. But for some, long-term or even lifetime use may occur.
Some other concerns exist too. But in truth, psychiatric medicines are largely safe, although it is important to take care when taking these drugs.
One of the most important things to know is that any psychiatric medicine must go through a rigorous procedure in order to be licensed in the United Kingdom.
This includes going through multiple trials, including on humans – which test safety and effectiveness. You can read more about this process here.
Psychiatric medicines have also improved significantly over the last few decades in terms of safety. For example, a few decades ago – MAOI antidepressants were used. But these had many side effects and have since been replaced two times over – first by tricyclic antidepressants and now SSRIs.
Studies have also consistently showed that psychiatric medicine can have a positive impact on a range of mental health conditions – including antidepressants and antipsychotics among others.
Many people find that these medicines can lead to their mental wellbeing improving. Therefore, there are a range of potential advantages to psychiatric medicines.
What to look out for
Rightfully, there are some concerns that people have. While in most cases psychiatric medicines are safe, this isn’t always the case.
One of the most crucial things is for a patient to only take their medicine as prescribed. This includes taking the right dosage, taking the medicine for the correct length of time, and monitoring your mental state.
Side effects are common with psychiatric medicines. These are normally mild and should settle down after a few weeks. Headaches, weight gain and dry mouth can all be common side effects. However, each individual medicine will have their own potential side effects.
Some medicines do have the potential to also cause problems to the kidney or liver. For example, the mood stabiliser Lithium can decrease kidney function. Again, each individual medicine has its own side effects – but this is a useful thing to watch out for.
Then there are some medicines that can be a short-term treatment for mental health conditions – including Benzodiazepines like Diazepam (Valium). These can be excellent in the short-term but are highly addictive. With these medicines it is particularly important to only use them as directed.
Due to the vast array of medicines, it isn’t possible to list every potential safety concern. But as an example, Sodium Valproate (Depakote) can be used in the treatment of Bipolar Disorder. However, it is known to cause birth defects , so is not prescribed to women of a child-bearing age. You can be assured that the rigorous testing has led to knowledge on if medicines are unsafe.
It is also important to maintain frequent conversation with your GP or mental health professional – especially when first taking psychiatric medicines.
Also, any sign of severe side effects like an allergic reaction, overdose or suicidal thoughts should always be immediately reported – these are medical emergencies. These should be treated as such.
Overall, psychiatric medicines that are used to treat mental health conditions are mainly safe. But they should only ever be used as prescribed, and other cautions should be taken into account.
As is the case with any medicine, side effects are possible. But if taken safely while under the care of a health professional and combined with a healthy lifestyle, psychiatric medicines should be safe.
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 Clayton-Smith, J., & Donnai, D. (1995). Fetal valproate syndrome. Journal of Medical Genetics. 32 (9): p724-727. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1136%2Fjmg.32.9.724.