Experiences of psychosis

Medication for psychosis

Most mental health problems are treated with medication. Medication is prescribed for many mental health problems and most people had been prescribed antipsychotics at one time (see ‘Resources section for a full description of medication). Some people said that whilst the quest to find a medication that suited them was not easy, it was worth the effort to persevere with medication. A few even described the effect of medication as ‘brilliant’. Some people who experienced side effects still wanted to take it as they felt the benefits outweighed the disadvantages. A few felt that taking medication had been the key to their recovery. However, some people were against medication and felt that it did not treat their ‘symptoms’ i.e. they were still hearing voices and thought that the side effects of medication were worse than their mental health problems.
 
Medication for anxiety and depression
Nearly all of the people interviewed had taken antipsychotic medication at some point in their lives. However some were prescribed other kinds of drugs (such as antidepressants, sleeping tablets or medication intended to help with anxiety - usually benzodiazepines).
Taking antipsychotic medication
Antipsychotic drugs are often prescribed to control the symptoms of psychosis. There are two main types of antipsychotics: the older antipsychotics and the newer atypical antipsychotics. For more information about the different types of medication and the associated side effects see organisations listed in our ‘Resources’ section.
 
Many felt that, although there was a role for medication, doctors relied too much on medication and should look at other ways of helping people feel better. One person said that as long as she took her medication she was ‘symptom free’, but felt ‘dizzy and disorientated’ if she forgot to take it. Some people felt that taking antipsychotic medication did not make their voices disappear or make them feel less paranoid, but what they did do was to make them feel drowsy and slowed down their thinking. A few described this as feeling like a ‘zombie’. For a full description of the physical side effects that people often experienced (e.g. weight gain) see the ‘Physical health’ section
Peter and Andre both reported problems with sex as a side-effect of their medication, which is not unusual. This can often be solved by changing to a different type of medication.

Psychological side effects
Many people had mixed feelings about taking medications due to unwanted psychological effects. Some said medication made them sleepy, was a sedative, made them feel ‘false’, or made it difficult to remember things. Rachel used the term ‘chemical cosh’ to describe the medication she was prescribed. Many people felt that they couldn’t work when taking medication because they were too tired or found it difficult to concentrate. Others felt they were ‘cocooned’ or that they couldn’t experience happiness or sadness. Peter felt unable to cry at his mother’s funeral because he felt ‘blunted’ by the drugs he was taking. It could sometimes be difficult for people – and the professionals working with them – to work out what was a side effect, and what was to do with their mental health condition.
However a few people experienced no side effects at all.
 
Talking to professionals about medication
Some people talked about the way they discussed their medication with doctors. Here they discussed the type, dosage, side effects and reasons for taking medication. Many worried they had been taking too high a dose. A couple of people said they fought to get the best medication for themselves or their loved one. For example, some wanted to be prescribed the newer drug, Clozapine as it is thought to be more effective, however, it is associated with potentially serious side effects and requires very regular blood tests. Rachel asked about the side effects of a particular medication but didn’t feel satisfied, whilst another felt that black people were given more medication. A few people felt it dehumanising that staff could forcibly medicate people in hospital (by injection), and so took their medication because they didn’t want this to happen to them. Some people said that medication taking could involve a power struggle between patient and professional. Dolly refused to talk openly, and pretended to be well on medication because she just wanted to get out of hospital even though she was still hearing voices.
Stopping or changing medication
People were frequently on many different types of medication at once, and had often changed the type or dose of antipsychotic they were taking. A few people had taken several different types of antipsychotics. Many people had difficulties when they stopped taking, or changed, the medication they were prescribed. Some people stopped taking their medication without telling their doctor, whereas others had their medication changed by their psychiatrist. A few people who stopped their medication after they were feeling better discovered that voices returned and some became unwell again.
Different ways of taking medication
Most people preferred to take medication in tablet form and avoid injections. Some people found having depot injections (intramuscular) into their backside humiliating as discussed above. Many people remembered to take their medication themselves, but others needed reminders (e.g. from family or professionals). A few people didn’t receive prescriptions on time, making them feel unwell.
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Last reviewed July 2017.
Last updated April 2014.

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