Treatments and drugs
Your treatment depends on the type of mental illness you have, its severity and what works best for you. In many cases, a combination of treatments works best.
If you have a mild mental illness with well-controlled symptoms, treatment from one health care provider may be sufficient. However, often a team approach is appropriate to make sure all your psychiatric, medical and social needs are met. This is especially important for severe mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia.
Your treatment team
Your treatment team may include your:
- Family or primary care doctor
- Nurse practitioner
- Physician assistant
- Psychiatrist, a medical doctor who diagnoses and treats mental illnesses
- Psychotherapist, such as a psychologist or a licensed counselor
- Social worker
- Family members
Although psychiatric medications don't cure mental illness, they can often significantly improve symptoms. Psychiatric medications can also help make other treatments, such as psychotherapy, more effective. The best medications for you will depend on your particular situation and how your body responds to the medication.
Some of the most commonly used classes of prescription psychiatric medications include:
- Antidepressants. Antidepressants are used to treat depression, anxiety and sometimes other conditions. They can help improve symptoms such as sadness, hopelessness, lack of energy, difficulty concentrating and lack of interest in activities. Antidepressants are not addictive and do not cause dependency.
- Anti-anxiety medications. These drugs are used to treat anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder or panic disorder. They may also help reduce agitation and insomnia. Long-term anti-anxiety drugs typically are antidepressants that also work for anxiety. Fast-acting anti-anxiety drugs help with short-term relief, and they also have the potential to cause dependency, so ideally they'd be used short term.
- Mood-stabilizing medications. Mood stabilizers are most commonly used to treat bipolar disorders, which involves alternating episodes of mania and depression. Sometimes mood stabilizers are used with antidepressants to treat depression.
- Antipsychotic medications. Antipsychotic drugs are typically used to treat psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia. Antipsychotic medications may also be used to treat bipolar disorders or used with antidepressants to treat depression.
Psychotherapy, also called talk therapy, involves talking about your condition and related issues with a mental health provider. During psychotherapy, you learn about your condition and your moods, feelings, thoughts and behavior. With the insights and knowledge you gain, you can learn coping and stress management skills.
There are many types of psychotherapy, each with its own approach to improving your mental well-being. Psychotherapy often can be successfully completed in a few months, but in some cases, long-term treatment may be needed. It can take place one-on-one, in a group or with family members.
When choosing a therapist, you should feel comfortable and be confident that he or she is capable of listening and hearing what you have to say. Also, it's important that your therapist understands the life journey that has helped shape who you are and how you live in the world.
Brain-stimulation treatments are sometimes used for depression and other mental health disorders. They're generally reserved for situations in which medications and psychotherapy haven't worked. They include electroconvulsive therapy, transcranial magnetic stimulation, an experimental treatment called deep brain stimulation and vagus nerve stimulation.
Make sure you understand all the risks and benefits of any recommended treatment.
Hospital and residential treatment programs
Sometimes mental illness becomes so severe that you need care in a psychiatric hospital. This is generally recommended when you can't care for yourself properly or when you're in immediate danger of harming yourself or someone else.
Options include 24-hour inpatient care, partial or day hospitalization, or residential treatment, which offers a temporary supportive place to live. Another option may be intensive outpatient treatment.
Substance abuse treatment
Substance abuse commonly occurs along with mental illness. Often it interferes with treatment and worsens mental illness. If you can't stop using drugs or alcohol on your own, you need treatment. Talk to your doctor about treatment options.
Participating in your own care
Working together, you and your health care provider can decide which treatment may be best, depending on your symptoms and their severity, your personal preferences, medication side effects, and other factors. In some cases, a mental illness may be so severe that a doctor or loved one may need to guide your care until you're well enough to participate in decision-making.