Anxiety, Bipolar, Depression, Mental Illness, PTSD

Understanding your treatment options

By Caitlin B.

One of the most challenging parts of dealing with mental illness involves figuring out your treatment options. Whether you’ve just been diagnosed or you’re grappling with symptoms that haven’t responded to your current treatment strategy, it can be hard to know where to turn for help.

The good news is that there are far more treatment options available today than in decades past. While there’s still a lot that needs improvement, access to mental health care and quality of care have definitely improved in recent years. People who seek treatment for mental health issues now have a variety of treatment options to consider.

But this comparative wealth of options can be confusing or overwhelming, especially if you’re not sure what approach you’d like to take in addressing your mental health conditions.

If you’ve decided to seek treatment, here are five steps for finding the right treatment for you.

Step 1: Understand ALL your options

Treatment options for mental health issues fall into three broad categories:

  • Medication
  • Therapy
  • Lifestyle changes

Each category covers a lot of territory! There are hundreds of FDA-approved medications for various psychiatric conditions. If you have one of the more common mental health issues—such as anxiety or depression—there may be dozens of potentially helpful medications for you and your doctor to consider.

The options for therapy are equally diverse. Different therapists are trained in different techniques and strategies. Certain mental health conditions respond better to certain forms of therapy, and not all therapists are qualified to perform all types of therapy.

Lifestyle changes can also take many forms. These changes may include adjustments to diet or adopting a new exercise plan. Lifestyle changes may also include larger changes to your way of living, like switching jobs or moving to a new area.

Step 2: Narrow down your options

People who have been newly diagnosed with mental illness often find themselves overwhelmed and unsure where to turn for treatment. The important thing to remember is that you do not need to choose one treatment option and ignore the others! Many patients find that they get the best results from combining multiple treatment strategies.

Over the years, I have successfully treated different aspects of my mental health conditions with different strategies. I have found medication, therapy, and lifestyle changes very helpful. It’s perfectly OK to put together a treatment strategy that includes several different types of treatment. It’s also OK to decide to try certain treatments first and save others as a backup plan.

If there is a particular course of treatment that you’d like to pursue as a “Plan A” before trying other options, research this type of treatment carefully and prepare to discuss this option with your doctor or therapist.

Step 3: Make arrangements to speak with a qualified mental health specialist (if you haven’t already done so.)

If you are dealing with a brand-new mental health issue – either an initial diagnosis or a new symptom that has appeared with an old diagnosis – the first step is to find a qualified medical professional who will help you determine what sort of treatment is going to be most beneficial.

While your regular physician can be a great resource for finding mental health treatment, some general practitioners are not equipped to provide in-depth mental health care. It’s a good idea to discuss your mental health issues with your regular doctor. But if he or she does not seem able to provide you with appropriate treatment, you may need to search for care elsewhere.

If you have already been diagnosed with a mental health issue by a doctor or therapist, he or she may be able to refer you to specific medical provider whom they feel will be able to treat your condition.

If you haven’t discussed your mental health issues with a medical professional yet, you have a few options for getting started. You can:

  • Contact your regular physician and ask for an appointment or a referral to a mental health specialist
  • Contact your health insurance carrier and ask for information on local mental health care providers
  • Ask friends or family members for recommendations for therapists or mental health specialists
  • Search online for mental health care providers in your area

Once you’ve scheduled an appointment with a qualified health care provider, you can discuss your treatment options with them.

Step 4: Prepare for your appointment

It’s important to spend some time preparing for your appointment with your mental health care provider. Many people get flustered or overwhelmed during doctor’s appointments, so it’s a good idea to make a list of questions you’d like to ask. If you feel too embarrassed to ask a particular question, you can even write it down and ask your provider to take a look at the question.

Some questions you might want to ask your mental health care provider include:

  • What is my diagnosis?
  • What are some of the common symptoms of this condition?
  • What are my options for treating this condition?
  • What treatment options do you offer? Are there treatments available which you don’t offer at your office?
  • Are there any treatments you’d specifically recommend? Have you had success treating other patients with similar issues?
  • Do you know if my insurance will cover certain treatments?
  • Do you have any recommendations for other resources (inpatient/outpatient clinics, crisis hotlines, support groups, etc.)?
  • Do you have any recommendations for additional sources of information on my condition (websites, pamphlets, etc.)?

If you’ve been newly diagnosed, you might feel embarrassed or confused. You may feel awkward about confiding in your doctor or therapist, or you may feel that you shouldn’t ask too many questions. But it’s important that you collect as much information as possible about your condition and your treatment options.

Don’t be shy about asking questions! Bring a notebook and pen. Ask your doctor or therapist to slow down or to repeat themselves if needed. If you feel comfortable doing so, bring a trusted friend or family member so they can help advocate for you or ask any questions you might forget.

It is your mental health care provider’s job to answer your questions and help you find the right treatment. If you feel that your doctor or therapist becomes impatient or pushy when you ask questions about treatment options, that’s a red flag. Consider looking for another provider.

Step 5: Choose your treatment strategy

A good doctor or therapist will help you explore all your options. He or she will explain which options are most likely to help someone with your specific condition. He or she should also help you determine which options will be covered by your insurance and how much your out-of-pocket costs might be. Finally, your provider should help you figure out which options you feel most comfortable with. Once you have all this information, you can make a decision on how to move forward.

Many people feel uneasy about the idea of taking medication for a mental health condition. While you should do your best to keep an open mind and listen to the advice of your mental health care provider, it’s also important that your provider listens to you and helps you feel comfortable with the treatment option you have chosen. Your provider should offer guidance on what to do if you feel like your treatment isn’t working or if you develop side effects from treatment. Ask your provider how soon you can expect to see improvement and what to do if your symptoms don’t improve or worsen.

Bonus step: Give your treatment some time!

It can be hard to be patient when you’re suffering, but very few treatment options work overnight. Most treatment strategies take weeks or months to take full effect. Whether you’ve opted for medication, therapy, lifestyle combinations, or some combination of the three, you should expect that it will take awhile for your treatment to kick in. Resist the temptation to give up on treatment if you don’t instantly feel “cured”.

Treatment for mental illness is not one-size-fits-all. Sometimes it takes awhile to find the right treatment strategy. But most people who suffer from mental illness are able to recover with proper treatment. Stay positive and keep working with your doctor or therapist to find the right treatment for you!

Have you received treatment for a mental health condition? What did you find most overwhelming or confusing about the process of getting treatment? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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