Experiences of psychosis

Physical well-being and side effects of medication

Many people spoke about the physical impact of taking a variety of different types of medication, primarily antipsychotic medication (for more information see ‘Medication). People also spoke about their physical health more generally, including strategies that people used to improve their physical well-being (such as diet and exercise). A few people talked about the difficulties of getting their physical health cared for when they were in the care of the mental health system.
People’s sensitivity to psychiatric drugs varied enormously, with some people experiencing severe side effects. The side effects people spoke to us about were: weight gain; muscle stiffness; heart problems; digestive problems; type II diabetes; confusion and memory loss; sleepiness; movement problems such as muscle spasms; emotional blunting, feeling over-sedated and like a ‘zombie’.

Older antipsychotic medications are more commonly associated with side effects such as sedation and neuromuscular problems ( e.g. restlessness and tremor). Whereas newer so-called ‘atypical’ medication produces fewer of these side effects but is associated with metabolic syndromes such as weight gain, hormonal changes and type II diabetes amongst other side effects. However there were some people who said they didn’t experience any of these effects on their current medication and talked about their medication as a ‘life saver’.
Gains and losses of taking medication
Most people experienced at least some of the physical side effects listed above and, together with their psychiatrist, weighed up the benefits of taking medication along with the side effects they experienced. Some people felt they were unable to choose whether or not to take a particular medication when they were detained under a section of the Mental Health Act.
Two of the most common side effects that people experienced were weight gain and sedation. Weight gain is particularly associated with the use of newer antipsychotics known as atypical antipsychotics. A few people we spoke to experienced sudden and dramatic side effects, or allergic reactions, that felt unfamiliar and frightening.

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.
Finding a medication that works
Over time many people took different types of medication, and some were able to find a medication with fewer side effects that still improved their mental well-being.
Others found they needed to take other medication beside their antipsychotic medication to counter side effects.
Looking after your physical health
Many people had tried, or had thought about trying, to live healthier lives, in order to combat weight gain often caused by the medication. Many also wanted to increase their overall well-being by eating well and doing exercise. Although it was often hard to do on a tight budget, some people spoke about joining gyms; some did exercise ‘on prescription’ and made changes to their diet.
A few people were resigned to the fact that their physical well-being was not going to be a priority for them. A couple of people talked about the continuing pain from past suicide attempts.
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Some people found that doing ‘mindfulness’ classes, yoga or meditation helped their physical and mental well-being. Margaret said that she had devoted the last three years to improving her mental health, and now wanted to join an exercise class as she had ‘neglected’ her body. For more information see the ‘Recovery’ section.

Last reviewed July 2017.
Last updated April 2014.


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