Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

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Am Fam Physician. 2008;78(3):363-364

See related article on mental illness.

If you have mental illness, you face special challenges in taking care of your health.

Medicine is oft en needed to treat mental illness. Sometimes, this medicine causes or worsens certain health problems (for example, weight gain, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart problems). It may be hard for you to decide whether to keep taking a medicine that helps your mental illness but that causes other health problems. Your psychiatrist and family doctor can help you decide.

Mental illness may make it harder to take care of yourself. You may have trouble eating a healthy diet, getting enough exercise, getting enough sleep, grocery shopping, or cleaning your house. Mental illness may make it harder to stay away from tobacco, alcohol, or illegal drugs.

Some medicine that helps mental illness can interact badly with other medicine, even over-the-counter medicine. These interactions may be dangerous to your health.

You need a team to help you take care of your health.

Your health care team will probably include the following people:

  • Your psychiatrist or another person who manages your mental illness medicines

  • Your family doctor, who helps you with your health care needs

  • Your therapist or counselor, who helps you cope with personal problems caused by mental illness

Your pharmacist, who has a complete list of your medications

Take the following steps to help yourself stay healthy:

  • Bring a list of all of your medicines to every appointment with any member of your health care team. If you can, take the medicine bottles with you. Your health care team can then check for medication interactions.

  • Tell your doctor and pharmacist before taking over-the-counter medicine or supplements. Some of these may cause interactions with other medicine you are taking.

  • Don't use alcohol, tobacco, or illegal drugs. They can interfere with the medicine that your psychiatrist or other doctor gives you. They can also cause health problems. If you use alcohol, tobacco, or illegal drugs, your doctor can help you stop.

  • Pay attention to your weight and what you eat. If you gain weight, you are more likely to get diabetes or have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or heart problems. Your doctor can help you learn how to eat a healthy diet.

  • Stay active. Staying active helps you feel better and keep your weight down. Find activities you enjoy, and ask a friend or family member to go with you. Try to do something active every day (for example, walking, biking, swimming, shooting a basketball, or gardening).

  • Get regular medical check-ups. Let your health care team help you improve your mental illness and stay healthy.

For more information, go to the following Web sites:

American Academy of Family Physicians

American Psychiatric Association

National Alliance on Mental Illness

National Institute of Mental Health

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