The treatment that's best for you depends on your particular mental illness, its severity and your life situation. Often, a team approach is appropriate to make sure all of your psychiatric, medical and social needs are met, especially in cases of severe mental illness, such as schizophrenia.
The team involved in treatment may include your:
• Family or primary care doctor
• Family members
• Social workers
If you have a mild mental illness and your symptoms are well controlled, you may need treatment from only your family doctor, a psychiatrist or a therapist.
Numerous treatments for mental illness are available. They include
• Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)
Psychiatric medications can be an effective treatment for mental illnesses. Although psychiatric medications don't cure mental illness, they can often significantly improve symptoms, whether you have depression, schizophrenia, panic disorder or another condition. Psychiatric medications also can help make other treatments, such as psychotherapy, more effective.
In some cases, specific psychiatric medications are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat a particular type of mental illness. However, medications are often used to treat conditions for which they're not officially approved — a common and perfectly legal practice called off-label use.
Here's an overview of some of the most commonly used classes of prescription psychiatric medications:
Antidepressant medications. Antidepressants are used to treat various types of depression. Several types of antidepressants, grouped by how they affect brain chemistry, are available. Antidepressants can help improve such symptoms as sadness, hopelessness, lack of energy, difficulty concentrating and lack of interest in activities. Antidepressants are often used to treat illnesses besides depression, including nonpsychiatric conditions. Antidepressant medications include citalopram (Celexa), paroxetine (Paxil, Paxil CR) and many others.
Mood-stabilizing medications. Mood stabilizer is the common name given to psychiatric medications that treat both manic and depressive symptoms. Mood stabilizers are most commonly used to treat bipolar disorder, which is characterized by alternating episodes of mania and depression. Mood stabilizers may also include anti-seizure medications. Mood-stabilizing medications include lithium (Eskalith, Lithobid), divalproex (Depakote) and many others.
Anti-anxiety medications. Anti-anxiety medications, as their name suggests, are used to treat anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder. They also may be useful in helping reduce agitation and insomnia. These medications are typically fast acting, helping relieve symptoms in as quickly as 30 minutes. A major drawback, however, is that they may cause dependency. Anti-anxiety medications include alprazolam (Xanax), lorazepam (Ativan) and many others.
Antipsychotic medications. Antipsychotic medications, also called neuroleptics, are typically used to treat psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia. Antipsychotic medications may also be used to treat severe cases of depression accompanied by psychosis. Antipsychotic medications include clozapine (Clozaril), olanzapine (Zyprexa) and many others.
Psychotherapy is a general term for the process of treating mental illness by talking about your condition and related issues with a mental health provider. During psychotherapy, you learn about your condition and your mood, feelings, thoughts and behavior. Using the insights and knowledge you gain in psychotherapy, you can learn healthy coping skills and stress management. Psychotherapy often can be successfully completed in a few months, but in the case of a severe mental illness, long-term treatment may be helpful.
There are many specific types of psychotherapy, each with its own approach to improving your mental well-being. The type of psychotherapy that's right for you depends on your individual situation.
Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)
Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a procedure in which electric currents are passed through your brain, deliberately triggering a brief seizure. This seems to cause changes in brain chemistry that can reduce symptoms of certain mental illnesses. Because it can provide significant improvements in symptoms more quickly than psychotherapy or medications, electroconvulsive therapy may be the best treatment option for some people. Deciding whether electroconvulsive therapy is a good option for you or a loved one can be extremely difficult. Make sure you understand all the pros and cons.
Hospitalization and residential treatment programs
It's not often that a mental illness becomes so severe that you require psychiatric hospitalization. Psychiatric hospitalization is generally recommended only when you aren't able to care for yourself properly or when you're in immediate danger of harming yourself or someone else. Psychiatric hospitalization options include 24-hour inpatient care, partial or day hospitalization, or residential treatment, which offers a supportive place to live.
Participating in your own care
Try to be an active participant in your treatment. Working together, you and your doctor or therapist can decide which treatment options may be best for your situation, depending on your symptoms and their severity, your personal preferences, insurance coverage, affordability, treatment side effects and other factors. In some cases, a mental illness may be so severe that a doctor, loved one or guardian may need to guide your care until you're well enough to participate in decision making.