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Quick Facts

Treatment of Mental Illness


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Jun 2020| Content last modified Jun 2020
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How do doctors treat mental illness?

The main treatments include:

  • Medicines

  • Talk therapy (psychotherapy or counseling)

For most mental health disorders, a combination of medicine and talk therapy is more effective than either one by itself.

Other treatments include:

What medicines are used for mental illness?

Doctors use many different medicines to treat mental health disorders. Types of medicines used include:

  • Antidepressant medicine, such as SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors)

  • Antianxiety medicine

  • Antipsychotic medicine

  • Mood stabilizers

What is psychotherapy?

In psychotherapy, sometimes called talk therapy, doctors and counselors talk with you about your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. They try not to tell you what to think or do. Instead, they try to help you understand yourself and figure out better ways to deal with stresses and life problems. Individual therapy involves one person working with one therapist. Therapists may also offer group therapy, family therapy, or couples therapy.

Therapists usually use different techniques depending on the problem. Some therapy types include:

  • Behavioral therapy

  • Cognitive therapy

  • Interpersonal therapy

  • Psychoanalysis

  • Psychodynamic psychotherapy

  • Supportive psychotherapy

What is electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)?

In electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), doctors give your brain an electrical shock while you're under anesthesia.

  • ECT can be effective for severe depression

  • Sometimes you have memory loss that lasts a short time

You might have a negative impression of ECT from TV and movies, but it's actually a safe and effective treatment.

What types of doctors treat mental illness?

Many types of health care providers treat mental illness, and you may be cared for by a team of providers, including:

  • Psychiatrist (medical doctor who specializes in mental health and can prescribe medicine)

  • Psychologist (mental health care practitioner who does therapy)

  • Nurse

  • Social worker

  • Primary care doctor (can also prescribe medicine)

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