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Treatment.


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.

Conclusion

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.

Note

*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.


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