Rules for Taking Psychiatric Medication

October 21, 2010 Natasha Tracy

If you’ve been diagnosed with a major mental illness, you’re probably not leaving the doctor’s office without a prescription in-hand. There’s a good reason for this: people only get help when they’re in bad shape. When people are in bad shape, medications work the most quickly and the most reliably (except electroconvulsive therapy, but that isn’t generally a first-line treatment for a host of reasons).

So, if you’ve just been handed you first prescription with incomprehensible handwriting and a drug name with too many syllables, what’s a person to do? Well, you can start by following these Psych Med Commandments.

Psych Med Commandment #1 - Know Thy Drug

The first thing you should know is what the drug is, what type of drug it is, what the risks are and why your doctor thinks it’s right for you. Hopefully your doctor explained this to you. If you’re not satisfied with the answer, ask more questions. It’s your right as a patient. Also, learn the brand and generic name of the medication because that often comes in handy.

(Yes, I generally recommend doing additional research on drugs, but that’s a bit lower down the list.)


Psych Med Commandment #2 - Know Thy Side Effects

Side effects are anything that happens to you after you start taking the drug, whether your doctor has heard of it or not. If your skin turns purple on your left side, that’s a side effect. (Yes, your skin could be purple for another reason; hopefully your doctor can ferret that out.)

Know the common side effects. Again, this should have been part of the initial conversation with your doctor. You should know this because then it’s less surprising when it happens and you can more easily understand its connection to the drug.

Psych Med Commandment #3 - Know Thy Dosing Schedule

In almost all cases you will start on a small dose of the medication and gradually increase. Your doctor should tell you this schedule. Do not vary from that schedule without talking to your doctor.

Of note, if you’re experiencing too many side effects you may wish to talk to your doctor about increasing the dose more slowly, which should reduce the side effects.

Psych Med Commandment #4 - Know Thy Dosage

In my experience doctors try to increase the dose as much as possible until you can no longer tolerate the side effects (within a safety range, of course). They do this because they want you to get better. By taking more of the drug you have a better chance of reacting positively. Once this happens, you can talk to your doctor about decreasing the dose to where it’s still effective, but with fewer side effects.

Also, doctors are always going to ask you how much you are taking (even the one who prescribed it, seriously) – make sure you know the answer.

Psych Med Commandment #5 - Take Thy Medication

Never – ever – stop taking your medication without talking to a professional. Suddenly stopping a medication can have horrible effects both psychologically and physically. Among many things, you could have a seizure from this type of behavior, and believe me, that’s the last thing you want to be worrying about.

When you want to reduce a medication it should be done slowly, over time, just like when you went on it. Your doctor will help you with a schedule.

Psych Med Commandment #6 - Thou Shalt Speak

Tell every doctor (including dentists and opticians) about every medication, supplement, vitamin, herb and whatever else you’re taking. Do not substitute your judgment for that of a medical professional.

Psych Med Commandment #7 - Thou Shalt Use As Directed

You should go on a drug as directed, come off a drug and yes, take the drug, as directed. Take the drugs at the same time every day so your blood level doesn’t spike.

Make sure to keep all medical appointments including lab tests. This stuff matters, your doctors are trying to keep you from having one of the small print side effects. Believe me, it's worth a few pricks.

Are There More Psych Drug Rules?

I could probably write another 20 or so medication commandments, but that will get you started. Just remember, this isn’t Pez you’re popping. People can and are harmed by not doing these things. Don’t be one of those people.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2010, October 21). Rules for Taking Psychiatric Medication, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 20 from

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate, and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. She's also the host of the podcast Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace Podcast.

Natasha is also unveiling a new book, Bipolar Rules! Hacks to Live Successfully with Bipolar Disorder, mid-2024.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleX, InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

Dr Musli Ferati
October, 29 2010 at 11:19 pm

Taking Psychiatric Medication at our surroundings include many problems and misunderstandings, particulary on the side of patients. By my psychyatric experience, the best way to overcome these difficulties is to indicate to patient the serious repercussions of nonmedication psychiatric disorders. Even many side effect of psychopharmacotherapy, it ought to insist every psychiatrist in taking the medication regularly by noncompliance patient. The cost-benefit of taking the madication is more useful means of living well and pleasing. This motto should be exploit with cleverness.

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