Mental health: Introduction

Last updated: Monday, April 29, 2024

NB: See learning outcomes for this tutorial mapped to competencies, a PDF of the whole text, and a one-page summary.

☞ Why this subject matters...

One in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. As a trainee or foundation pharmacist you will therefore be caring for patients with a mental health condition(s) whether that be as inpatients, maybe admitted to a ward for something unrelated, or as outpatients attending specialist clinics. The types of question that you may be asked about medicines in this field can vary, but there are some common issues such as swapping antidepressants and managing side effects which will be covered in this tutorial. Because we’re looking at frequently encountered problems, this tutorial only discusses antidepressants and antipsychotics; for guidance on drugs used in other mental health conditions such as anxiolytics and hypnotics refer to the Information sources


The number of people reporting mental health problems has been increasing in recent years. The frequency of some conditions such as depression is commonly expressed as the number of new cases annually (the incidence). For other conditions, such as schizophrenia, the frequency is given as the risk over a patient’s lifetime (their lifetime prevalence). Mixed anxiety and depression is the most common problem affecting 8 people in every 100, each week. For statistics on other mental health conditions, MIND has a really clear summary and help on interpreting the figures. To understand the impact of developing a mental health disorder upon patients’ lives, you may like to listen to a psychiatric nurse discussing his own depression, or to Stephen Fry describing his bipolar disorder. You can also read a mother's experience of post-natal depression.