How long will I need to take an antipsychotic?
How long you need to take antipsychotic medication for depends on your symptoms. Some people need to keep taking it long term.
If you have only had one psychotic episode and you have recovered well, you would normally need to continue treatment for 1–2 years after recovery.
If you have another psychotic episode, you may need to take antipsychotic medication for longer, up to 5 years. This is because the risk of schizophrenia symptoms recurring (relapse) is high for the first few years after a psychotic episode.
People who have had several psychotic episodes may need to keep taking antipsychotic medication for most of their life.
What if the medication doesn’t work for me?
If you have tried one or two antipsychotic medications and your symptoms have not improved, you will need a thorough review.
First, your doctor will check that you have remembered to take the medication regularly, check that the dose was correct, and check for other possible causes, such as medical problems or cannabis use.
Your doctor may suggest other treatments, such as:
- psychological treatment
- adding another medication
- trying a depot (injection) medication
- switching to clozapine.
Clozapine sometimes works when other medications have not. If you need to take clozapine, you will need regular check-ups, including blood tests.
Most people will only need to take one medication, but some people may need several.
Taking antipsychotic medication every day
Many people with schizophrenia find it hard to keep taking their medications.
If you have trouble remembering to take your medication, or you are taking several different medications, ask your pharmacist to package your tablets in containers with compartments for each day. They might use a blister pack (sometimes called a Webster-Pak or Medico Pak) or a plastic container (called a dosette box). Or you may decide that a depot injection would be best for you.
It is a good idea to always go to the same pharmacy so they can keep track of all your medications and give advice about them when needed.
Can I be forced to take my medication?
You can be given treatment without your consent if you are at risk of harming yourself or others. This is called involuntary treatment. If the risks are very severe you may have to spend time in hospital while you receive treatment.
If this happens, your doctor should give you a booklet that explains your rights. If you don’t get a booklet, ask for it.
Involuntary treatment can only continue while it is necessary to keep you safe. You, and your family or carers, have the right to have the decision reviewed by an independent authority, such as a court or tribunal.
Pregnancy and breastfeeding
For many antipsychotic medications, we don’t yet know if they’re safe for pregnant women to take. Some medications could harm an unborn baby, but stopping antipsychotic medication during pregnancy is risky for the mother.
If you are planning to get pregnant, discuss this with your doctor. It's best if you plan how to keep yourself and your baby safe before you get pregnant.
If you are already pregnant, talk to your doctor as soon as possible about keeping yourself and your baby safe during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
As well as your antipsychotic medication, your GP or psychiatrist may prescribe other medications to manage your symptoms.
Common examples include:
- anti-anxiety medications
- antidepressant medications
- medications to manage abnormal mood changes, such as lithium, carbamazepine or sodium valproate (mood stabilisers)
- sleeping tablets
- medications to treat the side effects of antipsychotic medications.
It is also a good idea to take fish oil supplements – ask your pharmacist which is the best one.
More about medications for mental illness