What types of medications are used in psychiatry?

Different types of prescription medications are used to treat mental health conditions. The most common medications include:

  • Antidepressants – these are medications that can be used to reduce the symptoms of anxiety, depression, OCD, and PTSD.
  • Anti-anxiety medications – sometimes referred to as sedatives, anxiolytics, or sleeping pills - are usually only used in the short-term if required to help manage sleep or anxiety.
  • Antipsychotics – these can be used to treat psychotic symptoms but may also be helpful in anxiety, agitation, and mood problems.
  • Mood stabilisers – these are used primarily to stabilise mood phases and are often used in treating bipolar disorder.
  • Stimulants – are classed as controlled medicines usually used in treating ADHD.

Given that all medicines can cause side effects, it is important that you consult with your doctor before taking them.



Antidepressants are used to reduce the symptoms of depression. They are mainly used for the treatment of depression that is moderate to severe. They can also be used in other conditions such as anxiety, OCD and PTSD.

The new antidepressants work by altering the natural levels of certain chemicals in the brain, particularly serotonin and noradrenaline, and sometimes melatonin. Some of these medications may work as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), Serotonin and Noradrenaline Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs) or by altering serotonin or altering both serotonin and melatonin.

If the newer medications don’t work or are not considered appropriate, older types of medication may be used, such as Tricyclic Antidepressants (TCAs) or Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs).

It is important to note that the herbal medicine, St John’s wort, is sometimes used for mild depression, but it can interact with other medications and should not be used at the same time as prescription antidepressant medication. Always talk to your doctor before taking any unprescribed medications or supplements to treat your depression.

Anti-anxiety medications

Anti-anxiety medications can sometimes be called sedatives or anxiolytics. A common class of these medications are benzodiazepines. Given that these medications can become addictive, they are usually only prescribed in specific circumstances and for a short period.



Antipsychotic medications are primarily used to treat psychotic symptoms, such as that which occurs in people diagnosed with schizophrenia, but they can also be used to treat anxiety, agitation and mood disorders.

Antipsychotic medication, like antidepressants, usually take a few weeks to take effect. It may also take time to find the right type and dose of medication to manage your symptoms, so it’s important to work with your doctor to see what works best for you.

Mood stabilisers

Mood stabilisers are a medication that can be used to treat mood disorders, such as bipolar disorder and severe recurrent depression. The main types of mood stabilisers include lithium, anticonvulsants (also knowns as anti-epileptics) and antipsychotic medication. Some mood stabilisers are ‘phase-specific treatments’, meaning they may work better in a particular phase of an illness. For example, some medications work better in mania than depression, and vice versa. Sometimes a combination of these medications may be used to best treat the condition.



Stimulants are prescription medications usually used to treat ADHD. They increase the level of natural chemicals in the brain, namely noradrenaline and dopamine. Increasing the amount of these chemicals in the brain improves the symptoms of ADHD, such as increasing attention span, reducing hyperactivity, and improving impulse control and executive function.

Stimulants are highly controlled medications and can only be prescribed by doctors who are authorised prescribers.


Some nutrient supplements have evidence supporting their effectiveness in the treatment of certain mental health conditions. Supplements may be used to complement an inadequate diet and for their therapeutic activity. Examples of supplements include vitamins, dietary minerals, pre / probiotics, amino acids, and herbal-based medicines.

It is important to be mindful of the quality and standardisation of supplements and the potential for drug interactions between prescription medication, herbal medicines, and supplements. For this reason, you should always let your doctor know which products you are taking.