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.
Lifestyle and home remedies
In most cases, a mental illness won’t get better if you try to treat it on your own without professional care. But you can do some things for yourself that will build on your treatment plan:
- Stick to your treatment plan. Don’t skip therapy sessions. Even if you’re feeling better, don’t skip your medications. If you stop, symptoms may come back. And you could have withdrawal-like symptoms if you stop a medication too suddenly. If you have bothersome drug side effects or other problems with treatment, talk to your doctor before making changes.
- Avoid alcohol and drug use. Using alcohol or recreational drugs can make it difficult to treat a mental illness. If you’re addicted, quitting can be a real challenge. If you can’t quit on your own, see your doctor or find a support group to help you.
- Stay active. Exercise can help you manage symptoms of depression, stress and anxiety. Physical activity can also counteract the effects of some psychiatric medications that may cause weight gain. Consider walking, swimming, gardening or any form of physical activity that you enjoy. Even light physical activity can make a difference.
- Don’t make important decisions when your symptoms are severe. Avoid decision-making when you’re in the depth of mental illness symptoms, since you may not be thinking clearly.
- Determine priorities. You may reduce the impact of your mental illness by managing time and energy. Cut back on obligations when necessary and set reasonable goals. Give yourself permission to do less when symptoms are worse. You may find it helpful to make a list of daily tasks or use a planner to structure your time and stay organized.
- Learn to adopt a positive attitude. Focusing on the positive things in your life can make your life better and may even improve your health. Try to accept changes when they occur, and keep problems in perspective. Stress management techniques, including relaxation methods, may help.
Coping and support
Coping with a mental illness is challenging. Talk to your doctor or therapist about improving your coping skills, and consider these tips:
- Learn about your mental illness. Your doctor or therapist can provide you with information or may recommend classes, books or websites. Include your family, too — this can help the people who care about you understand what you’re going through and learn how they can help.
- Join a support group. Connecting with others facing similar challenges may help you cope. Support groups for mental illness are available in many communities and online. One good place to start is the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
- Stay connected with friends and family. Try to participate in social activities, and get together with family or friends regularly. Ask for help when you need it, and be upfront with your loved ones about how you’re doing.
- Keep a journal. Keeping track of your personal life can help you and your mental health provider identify what triggers or improves your symptoms. It’s also a healthy way to explore and express pain, anger, fear and other emotions.