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Types of medication

What types of medication are used to treat mental illness?

Most psychotropic medications are tablets or capsules you swallow every day. Some are available as syrups or injections.

For complete details on all medications currently approved for use in Australia, see NPS Medicinewise.

New Zealanders can go to Choice and Medication.

Below are a selection of the most commonly prescribed medications for mental illness.

Antidepressant medications

Antidepressant medications are mainly used to treat depression and anxiety disorders. They may also be used for obsessive compulsive disorder, phobias or post-traumatic stress disorder.

They help to improve your sleep, energy, appetite, mood and negative thoughts about yourself.

Examples of antidepressant medications are citalopram, escitalopram, fluoxetine, sertraline and venlafaxine.

More on antidepressants

Antipsychotic medications

Antipsychotic medications are used to treat:

  • schizophrenia
  • some types of depression 
  • acute bipolar disorder
  • mania
  • delirium
  • dementia.

They help with hallucinations and delusions, anxiety, agitation and problems with mood, thinking and socialising.

Examples of antipsychotic medications are amisulpride, haloperidol, olanzapine, quetiapine and risperidone.

More on antipsychotics


Benzodiazepines are sometimes used to treat anxiety and insomnia.

They’re not recommended as an initial treatment for anxiety because they can be addictive, and their effects only last as long as you're taking them.

Examples of benzodiazepines are diazepam and temazepam.

Medications for addiction

Medications for addiction are used to:

  • reduce withdrawal symptoms
  • treat cravings in people who have an addiction.

Examples of drugs used for heroin withdrawal are buprenorphine, methadone and naltrexone.

Drugs used for alcohol withdrawal include acamprosate and disulfiram.

Medications for dementia

Dementia medications are used to improve thinking and memory.

They work for a limited time, usually from 6 months to 2 years.

Examples of medications for dementia are donepezil, rivastigmine and memantine.

Mood stabilisers

Mood stabilisers are used to treat:

  • bipolar disorder
  • schizoaffective disorder.

They help to make mood swings less severe and reduce irritability and aggression. If you are taking mood stabilisers you will need tests to monitor the levels in your blood.

Examples of mood stabilisers are lithium and valproate.

Stimulant medication

Stimulants are used to treat:

  • attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • narcolepsy (a type of sleep disorder).

They help to improve attention, concentration and alertness.

Examples of stimulant medications are dextroamphetamine and methylphenidate.

Page last reviewed Feb 2017 | C1020V1

This is a general guide only, and does not replace individual medical advice. Please speak to your doctor for advice about your situation. The RANZCP is not liable for any consequences arising from relying on this information. Subject matter experts, people with lived experience of mental illness and carers all contributed to this fact sheet.