Anxiety, Depression, Mental Illness

What to do when your treatment isn’t working

By Caitlin B.

Making the decision to seek mental health care takes an enormous amount of courage. Just speaking the words, “I think I need some help” is a roadblock that many people with mental illness struggle to overcome. If you’ve managed to ask your doctor for help dealing with a mental health issue, give yourself a big pat on the back! You’ve taken the first step toward feeling better.

But what comes next? What if you ask for treatment…and the treatment doesn’t seem to help?

Many people feel a sense of tremendous relief the first time they see a therapist or psychiatrist. But some wind up feeling discouraged and disappointed. They’ve finally seen a doctor, but when they leave the doctor’s office they’re still suffering. They may be tempted to give up on their treatment when they don’t immediately feel better.

Is this you? Before you quit your treatment, consider the facts.

Treatment takes time

When it comes to your treatment strategy, it’s important to keep a sense of perspective. You wouldn’t expect the ER doctor to heal your broken leg on the spot. Nor would you expect a cardiologist to fix your heart disease in a single office visit. As with any other health condition, mental illness takes some time to treat. It may take weeks (or even months) before you feel significant improvement.

After I was first diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, I was disappointed when the pills my doctor gave me didn’t make me feel better right away. But I soon found out the SSRI that I had been prescribed takes a while to kick in. According to WebMD, it can take 6-8 weeks for SSRIs to take effect. Many other psychiatric medications work the same way. Your medication may only become fully effective after weeks or months of treatment. Ask your doctor about any medication you have been prescribed to find out this specific information.

Therapy takes time, too. Think of psychotherapy like physical therapy. If you injure your knee, you may have to go through several sessions of physical therapy. A damaged joint takes time to heal and you need to give your body time to repair itself. Psychotherapy works the same way! If you’ve been struggling with serious mental health issues for a long time, you probably won’t be “cured” in a single session, but you will improve over time.

When to change your treatment strategy

But what should you do if your treatment doesn’t seem to be helping, even after several months? It can be tempting to give up. You may start to tell yourself that you’re “beyond help” and no doctor or therapist can do anything for you. But instead of giving up, try asking yourself a few questions:

Am I following up with my treatment?

Are you attending all your therapy appointments and taking your medication as prescribed? Be honest with yourself. If you haven’t given your treatment a good try, don’t give up. Instead, make a fresh start with your treatment strategy.

Have I talked with my medical provider honestly about what I’m experiencing? 

Many people who suffer from mental illness (myself included) sometimes feel guilty about taking up too much of our medical provider’s time. We may feel tempted to tell them that we’re feeling better, even if we aren’t. We may also feel too embarrassed to admit how severe our symptoms are.

If you haven’t been completely straightforward with your doctor or therapist about how you’re feeling, now is the time to let them know. Remember, your medical provider can’t help you get better if they don’t know you’re sick!

Have I explored all treatment options?

If you’ve struggled with mental health issues for years, it can be discouraging to realize that treatment isn’t helping you the way you’d hoped. But there is a wide range of treatment options available. Mental health care is not one-size-fits-all.

If you don’t feel like your therapist is a good fit for you, try another one. If the medication your doctor prescribed doesn’t seem to be working, ask if there is another prescription you can try. Explore options for support groups and other community resources.

The importance of staying positive

Successful treatment for most mental health conditions takes some time. It can be hard to stay patient when you’re suffering, but keeping a sense of positivity is a critical part of recovery. If you find yourself slipping into negative thinking – “I’ll never get better” ­— try flipping the script. Rather than focusing on the things you can’t control, focus on what you can control: your commitment to sticking with your treatment.

It’s important to remember that the vast majority of people who suffer from mental health issues do recover with the appropriate treatment. According to the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 70 to 90% of patients with mental illness report significant improvement after receiving treatment. If you’re still in the first few months of your treatment, stay positive and remember that recovery doesn’t happen overnight.

The road to recovery isn’t always straightforward! Sometimes it takes many twists and turns. It took me several years before I found a treatment strategy that worked well. Today, my symptoms are well-controlled and I feel better than ever. I’m so glad that I stuck with my treatment, even when it was challenging.

What challenges have you faced during your treatment for mental illness? What advice would you share with someone who is just beginning treatment? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

1 thought on “What to do when your treatment isn’t working”

  1. Great advice. Thank you for the post. I struggle with mental illness and a lot of treatment hasn’t worked but it’s important to keep trying. My blog is if you’d like to look, I draw cartoons on mental health.


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