Mental Health Treatment Options

Treatment for mental illness depends on the type of illness, its severity and what works best for individual patients. Each person responds differently to medication and what works for one person may not work for another person. Some patients require a higher dose of a medication while others can manage fine on a lower dose. For a mild mental illness, one practitioner may be all that is necessary to provide treatment, a more complex illness, such as schizophrenia may require a team of clinicians. Members of a team may include:

  • A primary care doctor
  • Nurse practitioner
  • Physician assistant
  • Psychiatrist or psychologist
  • Pharmacist
  • Social worker
  • Family members


Medications for mental illness do not cure the disorders; rather they help patients to live more comfortably with as few symptoms as possible. Just as insulin does not cure diabetes, but the use of it allows diabetic patients to live a normal life with some dietary restrictions. The use of medications for mental illness enhances the efficacy of therapy by making a patient more receptive to treatment. Some commonly used psychiatric medications include the following.

  • Antidepressants: In addition to treating depression, antidepressants are often prescribed to treat anxiety and other conditions. They can reduce symptoms such as sadness, anxiety, hopelessness, lack of energy, trouble concentrating and lethargy
  • Anti-anxiety medications: Anti-anxiety medications are used to treat generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder. They reduce agitation and also help improve sleep patterns. There are fast acting anti-anxiety medications which provide short-term relief but they have the potential to cause dependency so are best used briefly. Long-term medications are mostly antidepressants which also work to reduce anxiety
  • Mood stabilizing medications: Medications in this category are most commonly used in the treatment of bipolar disorder which is manifested by mood swings alternating between mania and depression. Sometimes mood stabilizers are prescribed side-by-side with antidepressants in the treatment of depression
  • Antipsychotic medications: Antipsychotic medications, also called neuroleptics, are used in the treatment of psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia. They may also be used to treat bipolar disorder or in combination with antidepressants to treat depression


Psychotherapy is when a person speaks with a trained therapist in a safe and confidential environment to explore and understand feelings, emotions and behaviors and their consequences. They also learn coping skills to use in their daily life. Psychotherapy sessions are led by the therapist and cover subjects such as past and current problems, relationships and thoughts. The therapist helps a patient make mental connections between behaviors and psyche and provides insight.

Psychotherapy is very effective in improving symptoms in a wide range of mental illnesses. It can be used for individuals, couples or groups. Most patients do best with a combination of medication and psychotherapy.

One of the most successful and popular types of psychotherapy is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, CBT. A therapist and patient will explore relationships between a person’s thoughts, feelings and behavior. During CBT, a therapist works with a patient to discover unhealthy thought patterns which lead to self-destructive beliefs and behavior. In examining such patterns, patient and therapist can work together to develop constructive ways of thinking that will produce healthier beliefs and behaviors. For example, CBT can help a person replace negative thoughts which lead to low self-esteem such as “I can’t do anything right,” with positive expectations such as “I can do this most of the time based on my prior experience.”

The core of CBT is identifying negative thoughts or false beliefs and testing or restructuring them. CBT therapists often assign patients homework between sessions so they may practice replacing negative thoughts with more realistic thoughts based on prior experience. Patients may be asked to record negative thoughts in a journal.

Studies of CBT have shown it to be an effective treatment for a wide range of mental illnesses, including depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Patients who undergo CBT show changes in brain activity, suggesting that the therapy improves brain function. Many mental health professionals are CBT trained, making the treatment effective and accessible.

Residential treatment programs

Sometimes, mental illness is so severe that hospitalization is required. It is generally recommended when a person is unable to take care of themselves or is in danger of harming others or themselves. Options include 24-hour inpatient care, partial or day hospitalization, or residential treatment — which offers a temporary, supportive place to live. Intensive outpatient treatment is another available option.

Mental illness can often trigger substance abuse which considerably complicates treatment. If a person is unable to stop using drugs or alcohol on his or her own, immediate treatment should be sought.

Working together, a patient and clinician can decide which treatment is most appropriate for a specific illness. In severe cases, a doctor or family member may need to guide care until a person becomes well enough to participate in decision making.

Find help today

Great strides have been made in the treatment of mental illness and science and technology continue to pioneer effective new treatments. Patients who formerly had little help can now live full and active lives.

If you have questions or would like further information regarding available options for mental illness, please call Colorado Mental Health Help to speak with a member of our team.