PRESS RELEASENovember 12, 2019

Re-thinking the names of mental health medications

  • November 12, 2019

TORONTO, November 12, 2019 – While strides have been made to implement patient-centred language within healthcare, the terminology used to describe drug therapies lags behind – particularly for mental health conditions. A commentary published today in BMJ Opinion, calls on clinicians to re-think the language they use when describing medications and diseases with their patients.

The authors, Mina Tadrous, PharmD and PhD, and Kaleen N. Hayes, PharmD, maintain that the next step in modernizing clinical jargon is to separate drugs classes from their use for treating a particular disease. Most notably, actively appreciating the words they choose when there is stigma associated with the type of medication.

“As pharmacists, we often see how drug class names create patient confusion and further perpetuate feelings of shame during counselling,” said Tadrous, scientist at the Women’s College Hospital Institute for Health Systems Solutions and Virtual Care (WIHV) and Women’s College Research Institute (WCRI). “For example, patients experiencing depression often don’t understand why their physician would prescribe them an antipsychotic or for those with pain it may be unclear why they were prescribed an antidepressant.”   

While this issue is not new, clinicians continue to use problematic terminology in their everyday practice. Rather than waiting for new nomenclature systems or the overhaul of existing ones, Tadrous and Hayes suggest a simpler solution. They are advocating for clinicians to immediately avoid using indication-based drug names like “antipsychotic” or “antidepressant” and instead use more patient-friendly pharmacological language.

The authors highlight that clinicians already use simplified language when describing a drug’s effects and rely on more patient-friendly terminology when treating other conditions. For example, beta-receptor antagonists used to treat hypertension are typically referred to as “beta-blockers” with patients. Similar language can be applied for mental health conditions such as partial serotonin blocker or serotonin regulator.

“By adapting and modernizing our language surrounding drug therapies in clinical settings we can help improve patients’ understanding of their medications and enhance shared decision making,” said Hayes, a pharmacist and PhD candidate at the University of Toronto Dalla Lana School of Public Health. “These changes will help clinicians meet the needs of their patients, without needlessly perpetuating the stigma around mental health.” 

The full commentary is available online at:


About Women’s College Hospital 

For more than 100 years Women’s College Hospital (WCH) has been developing revolutionary advances in healthcare. Today, WCH is a world leader in the health of women and Canada’s leading, academic ambulatory hospital. A champion of health equity, WCH advocates for the health of all women from diverse cultures and backgrounds and ensures their needs are reflected in the care they receive. It focuses on delivering innovative solutions that address Canada’s most pressing issues related to population health, patient experience and system costs. The WCH Institute for Health System Solutions and Virtual Care (WIHV) is developing new, scalable models of care that deliver improved outcomes for patients and sustainable solutions for the health system as a whole. 

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