Many people are aware of the potential benefits that mental health medicines have on those with mental health conditions. For some, psychiatric medication can give help their mental health enormously.

But many wonder just how these medicines work. In this article, we look at how mental health medicines like Antidepressants, Antipsychotics and Mood Stabilisers work and see how they impact the brain.

Medicine can help many people!

Not an exact science

It is important to state that it isn’t entirely known how psychiatric medication effects our minds. The brain is incredibly complex, hence why it is difficult to know exactly what happens.

However, there is no need to worry. All psychiatric medicines go through a rigorous process made up of several stages in order to get a license – before they can be prescribed.

Psychiatric medicines have been around for years, and while their exact mechanism isn’t known, they have helped many people get better.

Brain chemicals

Psychiatric medicines are believed to work by altering the levels of certain chemicals in the brain. These chemicals are called neurotransmitters, and include serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline (also known as norepinephrine).


A common belief is that conditions like Depression and Anxiety are caused by an “imbalance” of chemicals. Therefore, antidepressants are commonly used as a way of increasing the levels of serotonin in the brain – which is believed to boost mood and regulate emotions.


Similarly, many conditions that involve psychosis, like Schizophrenia, are believed to be linked to abnormally high levels of the chemical dopamine in the brain.

Therefore, many psychosis-related conditions are treated by antipsychotics. Antipsychotics aim to regulate the levels of dopamine. The idea is that by regulating the levels of dopamine, that psychosis should not happen, thus alleviating symptoms.

Mood Stabilisers

Conditions like Bipolar Disorder involve periods of mania and depression. Other conditions may also result in mood stabilisers being prescribed.

Anti-epileptic drugs like Lamotrigine and Sodium Valproate are often used. These medicines are believed to work by preventing mania by increasing a chemical called gamma-aminobutyric acid in the brain, which has a calming effect.

One of the most common treatments is Lithium Carbonate. There is very little concrete information on how Lithium works, but its effectiveness cannot be questioned.


Benzodiazepines are normally only ever used on a short-term basis. They can be used if someone is going through a very severe depressive episode, or for other purposes.

They work by increasing the levels of a chemical called gamma-aminobutyric acid in the brain. This has a calming effect and can lead to sedation and drowsiness.

Because of the calming and sometimes happy feelings that Benzodiazepines provide, many people abuse them. Therefore, they should only ever be used in rare cases.

Impact on symptoms

Many people find that psychiatric medicines result in an improvement in mood and better mental wellbeing. This can make them more receptive to talking therapy, aiding their recovery.

Improvements in energy levels, concentration and motivation are all common. In general, many people feel they are able to lead a happier life.

Moreover, medication will often also help end psychotic episodes for those who are suffering from psychosis symptoms like hallucinations and delusions.

Working in tandem with talking therapy

Medication is most effective when it is used alongside talking therapy. Talking therapy can

This partnership can be very beneficial. For example, while medication can lessen the symptoms, talking therapy is usually the key to fully recovering from mental illness.

There are a huge range of talking therapies that exist. If you can find a type of therapy that works for you, then it can complement medication very well. You can see our Therapy section here.


As you can see, there is no exact science on how mental health medicine works. But years of research has led to some strong theories on how they work.

Ultimately, as long as a patient can tolerate the medication well, how they work doesn’t matter too much. The hope is that these medicines will improve your mental wellbeing to the extent where it makes a positive difference to your life.

See Also



This website should be used purely for informational purposes, and does not intend to, nor should it ever, be used as a replacement for professional medical advice.

We strive to keep all of our pages updated, and ensure that our website is full of factual and in-depth information. However, we encourage you to browse this website with care.

As a reminder, this website and all content within it cannot and should not replace the advice of a trained medical professional. You can read our full disclaimer at this link.


If you are struggling with your mental health, help is available. With the right support and treatment, you can make a recovery. For information on helplines, or if you are in a state of crisis, please visit our crisis page by clicking on the relevant link for your geographical location (United Kingdom), (United States), (International). You can also see how to get mental health treatment and the process involved by clicking this link.