Do Medications For Mental Health Issues Work?


do medications for mental health issues work

Are you or someone you care about wondering “Do medications for mental health issues work?

I know in the early days I certainly thought this and I thought about it long and hard many times a day. Why wouldn’t you? Most pills prescribed by Doctors work in just a few days to clear up that chest infection or dose of tonsillitis so why shouldn’t medications for mental health issues work exactly the same…

After years or learning and experience i have come to realise that if you expect results from medication for mental health issues like depression and schizophrenia in 30 minutes the way paracetamol works for a headache you may be in for a nasty shock….

I am not a doctor but I am sharing my experience (in everyday language instead of “doctor speak”) to try to help you understand some of the different medications used to treat mental health issues and what you can expect when you start taking them.

Our mental health medication experience to date

My wife had been very well for a number of years when we decided to have another child.This wasn’t an easy decision as the first time my wife had any sort of serious mental health problems was after the birth of her first child. Literally from the day her son was born she started having “issues” which eventually led to her being hospitalised for a lengthy period and being diagnosed with post partum psychosis. If you have heard of post natal depression this is pretty similar but instead of “depression” you get psychosis/schizophrenia type symptoms.

The medication that worked for her this time was Haldol.

Over the years things settled down and except for a few hiccups it was pretty much smooth sailing. Once we decided to have another child we made the decision together to see a private Psychiatrist. We thought that there was a strong possibility the illness may rear its head again following the birth of our child so better to be safe than sorry!

We worked out a plan with the Psychiatrist that would see my wife deliver via caesarean section and then start immediately on  20 mg per day of Zyprexa (Olanzapine). Together we decided this was a reasonable, proactive approach to take to try to stop any reoccurrence of the issues from her previous delivery.

Everything was going brilliantly! My wife was recovering physically from the c-section delivery and mentally everything was fine. The only down side was the sedation effects caused by the Zyprexa. As with nearly any medication for treating illness’ with a psychotic manifestation, she was a bit more sedated and tired then we both would have liked.

I remember this conversation like it was 5 minutes ago. I’m sure it will be forever burnt into the very front of my memories for ever. If took place approximately 10 or 11 weeks after the birth of our daughter.

Wife to me – “Have you noticed anything not right, you know, sort of strange or weird in how I’m acting or talking?”

My response – “No, not at all, why?”

Wife – “It’s just, well, if I’m not having any problems (mentally) why do I need to keep taking this medication? It makes me a bit slow and tired and I would prefer not to be taking it”

My response – ” I agree. Not seeing any issues at all. Maybe we are being to cautious. If you want to stop taking it I’m OK with that.”


Never ever do what we did! We are not the Doctor, we have no training, we don’t fully understand what is happening, why it’s happening etc. Never ever play doctor and mess with your medications, your dosage or start or stop taking any mental health medications abruptly. Playing with your medication is a recipe for disaster and I plead with you to never, never, never do it!

What happened in the next 5 days is the type of thing that forever changes you as a person, it changes your life and how you look at the world. But that is not the subject of this post.

Let me simply say that the Zyprexa was doing something. In fact it was doing a very big something. It was keeping a psychotic episode at bay that would forever change our lives.

So about 7 days after stopping the Zyprexa we are back in the mental health ward and not in a very good state at all.

The first thing the Doctors do is start the 20 mg per day of Zyprexa again with confidence it will work. I mean, why wouldn’t it? Just a week earlier things were under control and being managed.

About 10 days latter nothing is changing, nothing is improving. In fact the psychosis is getting worse.

This brings me to the point of this post. The Zyprexa was working 2 weeks earlier and keeping things nice and calm. Everything and everyone was cruising on a beautiful calm sea before this perfect storm struck. So why didn’t the Zyprexa work? Why didn’t it stop the psychosis?

I don’t know…

The doctors don’t know…

No-one knows…

Medicating Mental Health Issues Is Not An Exact Science!

If you have an infection, you can go to the Doctor, get a prescription for some antibiotics and know that 99.9% of the time they will work.

That is not how medication and mental health issues work. I believe, and so does nearly everyone i have spoken to about this, that every person that presents with a mental health issue is unique. everyone’s problem or illness is unique to them. Sure a lot of people get diagnosed and placed in the bipolar box or the schizophrenia box or maybe it’s anxiety or OCD or something else. Everyone has to be diagnosed and placed into a box with a label on it. I don’t like it but that’s the way our systems works.

Once you have been placed in you box with your label, the Doctors now have an idea how to treat you and what medication to give you.

Let the games begin!

mental health medication

Some people are lucky and the first mix of medication the doctors decide on actually works. If you or the person you care for is one of these people I am so envious! In my experience there is a very small number of people who fall into this category. To those that do I am so pleased for you! I hope everything continues to work perfectly for you.

For the other 95%, I understand how you feel. You are unique and the issues you present with are unique. Everyone of us is an individual and has to be treated as one.

Mental Health medications don’t work like a Panadol with a headache. Most medications take a while to build up to a “therapeutic level”. A lot of mental health problems are in their simplest form a bit of a chemical imbalance in the brain. While it sounds simple and easy to fix, it really isn’t.

You have to give the Doctors, and the medication time. Time to get the levels rights in your body and mind, time to find the right mix of medications. I don’t know anyone who only takes one medication for a mental health issue. Getting the mix and the balance takes time. A particular mix of medication that works for one person wont work for another who on the surface appears to have the exact same issues. Why? I don’t know. That’s just the way it is!

When the companies and scientists who make the medication only half understand why a certain pill has an impact of this type on this symptom, we the end-user and not going to know.

We have to have faith. Faith that there is a mix of medications for our particular problem. Faith that the doctors will find the right mix and then find the right dosage. Faith that the combination they find will enable you to continue life as usual.

Medication does and will work for the treatment of Mental Health issues. Don’t make the mistake I made and self diagnose! Leave the diagnosis and treatment to the Doctors. Leave it to the experts who have the training. I know it is easy to get frustrated and want to take things into your own hands but I don’t know anyone who has done this and ended up with a good long-term solution.

Stay positive, persevere. Things will improve, You or the person you care for will get better.

Here are a couple of site where you can read more about the dangers of adjusting or stopping your medication without consultation and agreement from your doctor or case manager.

Australian Government Health Department – Relapse Prevention

Bipolar Burble – Blog Of Natasha Tracey

Here is an excerpt from her article. It’s great reading looking at the reasons why people may stop taking or adjust their medication. Click the above link to read more.

And also unfortunate is the fact that when a person with a mental illness refuses to take their medication they almost inexorably get sicker. People with bipolar disorder who won’t take their medication, for example, often become manic and then wind up hurting themselves or someone else and end up in the hospital. And watching this happen, as a loved one, is extremely painful.

PsychCentral – A story by George Hofman about what happened when he stopped taking his meds. I know it’s American but it’s a really good read with a focus on the cost to taxpayer and the “system” when someone stops taking their meds and has a major relapse

Click Here to read Georges Story

And to finish off here is a great article all about successful treatment for people with schizophrenia and how it is important to embrace not  just the medication aspect of recover but everything else to give yourself the best chance of full recovery.

I really enjoyed this article and found it extremely powerful and motivating – I hope you do as well.

You can read it by clicking here

What are your experiences? What medications are working for you? What side effects, if any, are you having?




Ian Knabel

Aussie mental health advocate. Firm believer in power of self development. Eternal optimist - the glass is always half full. We stand for reducing the stigma around mental health issues and lobbying Governments at all levels to increase expenditure on public mental health services. My wife has a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder and we share our experiences, our trials and triumphs to help you realsie that you are not alone. I am a husband, a father and hopefully an all round nice guy