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How to Keep Going When Mental Illness Treatment Doesn’t Work

What do you do when medication, therapy and other treatment of mental illness doesn't work? Why keep trying bipolar treatment? More at Breaking Bipolar blog.

Everyone who has been bipolar, or mentally ill in general, for longer than about a day-and-a-half has experienced failed treatments. We’ve all had medications that didn’t work. Therapy that didn’t help. Lifestyle changes that did nothing. And so on, and so forth. In fact, most of us experience months of treatment failure before we find treatment that works for our mental illness.

But after years of failure and trying everything you can think of and still being sick, how does one keep going? How do you keep going when mental illness treatment doesn’t work?

Do You Regret Trying a Treatment?

People have asked me if I regret trying some of the treatments I have had, like VNS or ECT as they were painful and didn’t work.

I can understand why people would think I’d regret it, but I don’t. Because you can never tell if a treatment is going to work before you try it. Every treatment is a question mark and the only way to know whether you’ll get better or not is to try. I don’t regret trying. Because even failure is information to use moving forward.

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.

– Thomas A. Edison

Treatment Doesn’t Work

I have experienced far more treatment failures than I have successes. I’m what you call treatment-resistant, also known as a doctor’s nightmare. A doctor gives me pills, I get every side effect. I do therapy and I know what the therapist is going to say before they say it. I make other changes in my life to little or no effect.

Nothing works.

And when I say nothing, I mean 40+ medications and practically an infinite number of combinations. Intolerable side effects. Pain. Uselessness.

Seriously. Nothing.

Why Bother?

A friend of mine sometimes gets depressed. And he told me, he forces himself to go outside and do things anyway. When I asked him why, he said he knew staying inside wasn’t going to make him feel better, but outside there was at least a tiny chance something would happen to make him less depressed.

Ah. Brilliant.

Continuing treatment is extremely simple: If I try something new, there is a chance I will get better; if everything stays the same, there is no chance.

Treatment, Even That You’ve Already Tried, Can Work

Today is not yesterday and today sure isn’t three years ago. You’re not the same. Your illness is not the same. You may not have seen a good response three years ago, but you might today. Or tomorrow. Or a month from now.

And the truth is there are always more treatments. Therapy, medication, ECT, VNS, rTMS, DBS and on, and on, and on. And any one of them can work. Really.

Because even a tiny chance of getting better is infinitely superior to no chance at all.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or GooglePlus or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter.

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar Burble, Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.

25 thoughts on “How to Keep Going When Mental Illness Treatment Doesn’t Work”

  1. Thank you for sharing this. I have been in the “nothing works” journey for 26 years. I was able ttyl maintain some semblance of hope until about 2 months ago at which time even my hope failed. Since then I have felt something weird, a type of apathy that scares me. I’ve always have chronic suicidal ideation, but it’s become such a casual thought process now. Without hope I feel more apt to self destruct than ever before. Your message made me feel less lonely. It was a breathe of fresh air and for that, I thank you.

  2. I’m also mental Resistant tried many meds feel good for a couple weeks then I’m flat on my back, nothing is helping, I’m Lonley for one house bound and couch bound for 3 yrs now, everyday I ask why, why can’t I clean my house, cook food, leave the house? Been seeing a therapist or psychiatrist caseworkers your name for years nothings helped! I think if I had a friend slash care taker come with positive attitude may help I don’t know but your employment definitely controls my depression, what do I do next ???

  3. While the article was published 5 years ago I have to say that at that time the author based on how I am able to feel and function, is doing great. She was able to actually write down an article about this subject and her relations to it. Then she was able to put it online. And get some intelligent responses plus mine. From where I am. That is the picture of good mental health. But I imagine that there is a person who is unable to write a comment although they would like to. All the best

  4. I am a 63 yr old female, and can only remember one at in my life I wasn’t depressed – the day my daughter was born. Other than that, my life has been continual, severe, unrelenting depression, despite a gazillion different medicinal treatments, therapies, hospitalizations, and even ECT. I have come to the conclusion that, for many of us “treatment-resistant” folks, it is preferable to accept that this is the way it is, instead of tossing our life savings down a black hole.

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