After receiving a diagnosis of a mental illness, what's the next step? The simple answer is treatment. But what does that mean exactly?
Typically, treatment consists of some balance of therapy & medication, which means meeting regularly with both a psychologist & a psychiatrist.
What's the difference between a psychologist & a psychiatrist?
Psychologists generally have a master's degree or higher in psychology or counseling. Psychiatrists typically have their M.D., which stands for Doctor of Medicine. So although they're both in school beyond the typical four years of a bachelor's degree, their focus is entirely different.
Psychologists are typically therapists who help people work through their issues with talking & other more specific techniques. Psychiatrists work with medication to help balance the chemicals in a patient's brain.
Explain this "therapy" thing.
What is therapy?
Therapy is the process of meeting with a therapist to resolve problematic behaviours, beliefs, feelings, or relationship issues--anything causing issues in day to day life, which is the basis for diagnosing a mental illness (symptoms that cause issues in day to day life). Through therapy, self-destructive behaviours and habits can be changed, painful feelings resolved, relationships improved, and more. There's individual therapy, group therapy, couple's therapy, & family therapy.
In any mode of therapy, goals are established along with steps to achieve the goals. The therapeutic process is how one goes about sharing feelings & experiences. This is as important as the issues being addressed; some techniques may work better than others. [Reference: Good Therapy . org.]
Now that we know what therapy is, who can it be useful for? Honestly, anybody! Life always has elements of stress & new situations & challenges. Therapy truly can be helpful for anyone.
What are psychiatric medications?
There are several different classifications of psychiatric medications:
antidepressants, used to treat depression
mood stabilizers, used to treat mood disorders
antipsychotics, used to treat psychotic disorders
sedatives, used to treat insomnia/ sleeping disorders
stimulants, used to treat ADHD
beta- blockers, used to treat anxiety
alpha-blockers (such as prazosin), used to treat anxiety & PTSD
benzodiazepines/ "tranquilizers", used to treat anxiety, sleeping disorders, etc.
mild tranquilizers (such as buspirone), used to treat anxiety, sleeping disorders, etc.
Each category is for a different purpose in treatment, addressing specific symptoms that appear with mental illness. Within each category, there are a variety of different medications, & for each medication there is a dosage range that's FDA approved. Even within each category, there are sometimes sub-categories, like with antidepressants.
Type of different antidepressants:
SSRI antidepressants (SSRI means selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors)
SNRI antidepressants (SNRI means serotonin-nonrepinephrine reuptake inhibitors)
TCA antidepressants (TCA means tricyclic) (such as clomipramine) (older medications, I think)
MAOI antidepressants (MAOI means monoamine oxidase inhibitors) (such as phenelzine or tranylcypromine)
Finding the right medication, or combination of medications (called a "med cocktail"), takes time & is generally a process of trail & error. It's a series of education guesses followed by a process of monitoring the results, good or bad.
There is no "one size fits all" approach to mental illness treatment. Treatment consists of a combination of therapy & psychiatric medications that are catered to each patient's needs. The process for both is that of trial & error: try a therapist or a type of therapeutic approach, or try a medication; see how it goes; proceed accordingly. It's not as black & white as treatment for a physical illness, but it's still something helpful that's out there. Treatment for mental health issues does exist, however limited it may be.
*Please note: This blog posts discusses long-term treatment for mental illnesses. Short-term treatment may consist of hospitalization at a psychiatric/ behavioural facility. That's another topic for another time.