National Mental Health Information Center
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Recovering Your Mental Health
A Self-Help Guide

Using Medications

Your physician may suggest one or more medications to help you feel better. Using these medications should be your decision, but first, you need answers to some important questions. To get those answers, you might ask your doctor or pharmacist, check a book about medications at the library, or search a reliable information source on the Internet. Double check with your health care provider before making a final decision.

bulletWhat are the common name, product name, product category, and suggested dosage level of this medicine?
bulletWhat does the physician expect the medication to do? How long will it take to do that? How well has this medicine worked for other people?
bulletWhat are the possible long- and short-term side effects of taking this medicine? Is there any way to reduce the risk of experiencing these side effects?
bulletWhat, if any, restrictions (like driving or avoiding certain foods) need to be considered when using this medicine?
bulletHow are medicine levels in the blood checked? What tests will be needed before taking this medicine and while taking the medicine?
bulletHow do I know if the dose should be changed or the medicine stopped?
bulletHow much does it cost? Are there any programs that would help me cover some or all of the costs of the medications? Is there a less expensive medication that I could use instead? Can generics or non-brand name medications be substituted for any the doctor suggests?
bulletAre there any medications or supplements that I shouldn’t take at the same time as these? What about over-the-counter medications?

If your symptoms are so bad that you are having trouble understanding this information, ask a family member or friend to learn about the medication and to help you decide whether this is the right course of treatment for you.

In deciding whether to take a medication or have a certain treatment, you might ask yourself whether the benefits of the medication outweigh the risks. You might also decide that you will take it for a trial period and then re-evaluate.

If you decide to use one or more medicines, you must manage them very carefully to get the best possible results and to avoid serious problems. To do this:

bulletuse the medicines exactly as the doctor and pharmacist have suggested.
bulletreport any side effects to your doctor, and keep notes for yourself about what you experience, when you experience it, and what the doctor’s response is.
bullettell your doctor about any times that you have not been able to take your medicine for any reason so the doctor can tell you what to do—do not double the next dose unless the doctor tells you to.
bulletavoid the use of alcohol or illegal drugs. (If you are addicted to them, ask your doctor for help.)
bulletpay close attention to lifestyle issues that cannot be corrected by medications, such as stress, chaos, poor diet (including excessive use of sugar, salt, caffeine, smoking), lack of exercise, light and rest. If these are problems for you, you will need to address these issues at some time in order to feel really well. But take it one step at a time

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