Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

Psychotropic medication: new resources for family carers

The Challenging Behaviour Foundation (CBF) has published new resources for family carers looking for information about psychotropic medication.

The pathway focuses on how to make sure your relative only takes the medication that they need and that they are taking it safely.

The resources have been funded by NHS England as a part of STOMP, a project about stopping the over-medication of autistic people and people with a learning disability.

What is psychotropic medication?

Psychotropic medication refers to a group of drugs that are used to treat mental health conditions. Examples include antipsychotics, antidepressants, mood stabilisers, sedatives and antiepileptics.

Since people with learning disabilities are as likely, or more likely, than the general population to experience mental health problems, psychotropic medication is commonly prescribed.

When prescribed judiciously, the medication can relieve shorten and relieve episodes of mental distress. However, there is evidence that doctors often prescribe medication to treat behaviour that is an expression of distress or a mode of communication rather than a mental disorder.1

This means that psychotropic medication often does not help people with learning disabilities. Furthermore, if the medication is given at too high a dose or for too long, it can cause harm.

The harm can range from unpleasant but time-limited symptoms such as drowsiness to effects that can be life-threatening – either in the short-term because of toxic drug effects or in the long-term because of drug effects on metabolism.1

It is therefore crucial that people with learning disabilities, autistic people and their carers know about the dangers of psychotropic medicine and how to take the medication safely.

Resources for family carers and advice for doctors and prescribers

The resource pack highlights that psychotropic medication should only be considered if alternative strategies to managing challenging behaviour have been tried and tested. It is important medication is not the only option considered.

It is also important to note that family carers can object if they do not agree medication is the best option for their relative.

If the carer and the individual agree that medication is the best option, doctors/prescribers should:

  • Help you to look for any side effects to the medication and whether it is helping your relative
  • Agree a date on which to review the medication
  • Gradually reduce the medication at a rate appropriate for the person
  • Consider stopping the medication is the individual is experiencing any negative effects.

Finally, the resource pack emphasises how essential it is that person-centred, proactive strategies are used to support the person to live a fulfilling and rewarding life.

“Getting it right means something different for everyone, so you will have to find out how your relative can be best supported,” it concludes.


To access the full resource pack, click here.

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