There are a large range of mental health medicines which can be used in the treatment of mental health conditions.

These medicines belong to different groups. In this article, we provide an overview of these different classes.

There are a range of types of psychiatric medicines

The Types of Medicines

There are four major types of medicines used in the treatment of mental health conditions:

  • Antidepressants
  • Antipsychotics
  • Mood Stabilisers
  • Benzodiazepines


Antidepressants are the most well-known and most-used class of mental health medicines. They are typically used in the treatment of conditions like Depression, Anxiety, Trauma-related conditions and Eating Disorders among others.

Within this class of medicine, there are a range of sub-types. These include Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) and Tricyclic Antidepressants among others.

It isn’t entirely known how antidepressants work. They target certain chemicals in the brain which are believed to be responsible for the regulation of mood, and motivation. Each sub-type of antidepressant has its own mechanism of action.

Antidepressants can take 4-6 weeks for their full effect to be felt. Most people find they make a positive difference to their symptoms. They are most effective when combined with a form of talking therapy.

Well-known Antidepressants include Fluoxetine (Prozac), Citalopram (Celexa), Sertraline (Zoloft), and Paroxetine (Seroxat). There are a huge range of antidepressants in total.


Antipsychotics are a class of medicines that can help in the treatment of conditions that involve psychotic elements – such as paranoia or hallucinations. Moreover, this includes Psychosis, Schizophrenia and some cases of Bipolar Disorder.

Antipsychotics are generally divided into two sub-types. These are “typical” antipsychotics and “atypical” antipsychotics. Typical antipsychotics are older generation medicaments, while atypical antipsychotics are newer drugs. However, both are effective.

It isn’t entirely known how antipsychotics work. It is known that they block dopamine receptors in the brain – which essentially reduces the level of dopamine. Excessive dopamine is believed to be a cause of psychosis.

Antipsychotics usually begin to work after around 2 weeks. It can take several weeks for their full effects to be felt. Many people combine this medicine with some form of talking therapy.

Mood Stabilisers

Mood Stabilisers are a class of medicines that are used primarily in the treatment of Bipolar Disorder. They can also be used as an add-on treatment for cases of Depression, or some Psychosis conditions.

There are just a few mood stabilisers, with Lithium the most well-known of these. Others include Sodium Valproate (Depokate) and Lamotrigine (Lamictal).

It isn’t fully understood how mood stabilisers work. It is believed that these medicines influence neurotransmitters in the brain which are linked to mood fluctuations. Essentially, they aim to balance and stabilise moods.

It can take 2-6 weeks for mood stabilisers to take full effect. But minor changes can be felt within a few days. Most people find that mood stabilisers improve their symptoms.


Benzodiazepines are a class of mental health medicines. They are often used as a short-term treatment in cases which involve extreme anxiety or agitation. They should only ever be used as a short-term measure, rather than taken on a long-term basis – due to the risk of addiction.

Benzodiazepines work as central nervous system depressants. They target the gamma-aminobutyric acid neurotransmitter in the brain. By doing so, they can induce calmness, drowsiness and sleep.

Benzodiazepines generally work very quickly. Most people feel their effect within around 30 minutes of taking the drug. Depending on the strength of the medicine, feelings can last anywhere from 3-6 hours.

As mentioned above, benzodiazepines should only be taken in the short-term. They are addictive, and many people can become dependent on them. Unfortunately, due to their effects, they are a commonly abused drug.

A huge range of medicines exist in this class. The best known benzodiazepines are Diazepam (Valium), Alprazolam (Xanax), and Lorazepam (Ativan) among others.


Each mental health medicine class has its own purpose. While there are differences in these medicines, they all operate towards the same common goal – improving mental health.

Many people find it takes time to find a medicine that works for them. This is why in most cases, combining medicine with talking therapy can be the best approach.

See Also



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