In these modern times, we are very accustomed to expecting our ills to be promptly treated by the simple act of popping of a pill. That same mindset also prevails when it comes to our mental health. Suffer from anxiety? There’s a pill for that. Have a trauma disorder? There’s a medication for that. Debilitating depression? There’s a drug for that. But what happens when the drug isn’t effective in treating the mental health disorder?
When someone is treatment-resistant it just means that they do not experience symptom relief through the use of psychotropic drugs. Even multiple medications or dosing trials may yield no discernible improvement in the mental health condition. This can become a source of intense frustration and despair for the individual suffering daily with a mental illness, often prompting them to simply give up on even trying to achieve wellness.
Thankfully, those who continue to research how to treat mental illness without medication may find discover some very sound alternative treatment approaches to try. These can be utilized in tandem with psychotherapy, which offers the best chance of positive treatment response. Indeed, medication doesn’t have to be the be-all, end-all for the treatment of a mental health disorder.
Brain Stimulation Techniques
Neuromodulation, or the purposeful manipulation of brain cells through electrical induction, has been shown to provide effective response and remission rates. There are various types of brain stimulation techniques. Of these only TMS therapy offers a noninvasive, drug-free solution, where the other brain stimulation options require surgical procedures and general anesthesia. Neuromodulation techniques for treating mental illness include:
- Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). TMS is a type of neurostimulation technique that uses magnetic fields and electrical currents to help recalibrate brain chemistry. TMS is a safe, noninvasive therapy that delivers electromagnetic pulses via a coil placed over the patient’s left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex of the brain. This placement is strategic, as this limbic region is where emotions and executive functions are processed and regulated.
After a 4-6 week treatment period of receiving the 40-minute therapy sessions 5 days per week, the once sluggish brain cells in the limbic system become activated and result in improvements in general mood, sleep quality, cognitive functioning, and energy level. The treatment is provided on an outpatient basis in an office setting, is well tolerated, and requires no sedation so patients can return to daily activities immediately following treatment sessions.
- Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). ECT is also a brain stimulation treatment that involves using electrical currents that will purposely induce a seizure. ECT is conducted in a hospital setting under general anesthesia and is usually reserved for severe or life-threatening cases of depression. To help reduce serious side effects the patient must first take a muscle relaxant to help prevent sudden movements that can result in broken bones or other injuries. Electrode pads are placed over the scalp, through which small electrical currents pass into the brain tissue.
In most cases, the 5-10 minute ECT treatments are prescribed 2-3 times per week for about 4 weeks. The induced seizures can stimulate brain cells, changing the brain chemistry and reducing the symptoms of severe depression. Because a general anesthetic is required, there are risks involved in ECT. Patients must remain in recovery at the hospital for a specified period and are advised not to drive for at least 24 hours after leaving.
- Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS). VNS involves stimulating the vagus nerve located in the neck. A small pacemaker-like device is implanted in the patient’s chest, with wires that run under the skin to the vagus nerve in the neck. When the device is activated, regular electrical pulses are delivered for about 30 minutes daily directly to the nerve. The impulses then communicate with the nerve cell circuits that send signals to the limbic region of the brain.
After about 9 months of treatment, this device may relieve the symptoms of depression, at least partially. Because VNS requires surgery under general anesthesia to implant the device, there are associated risks.
- Deep brain stimulation (DBS). DBS involves the implantation of electrodes into specific brain regions. The stimulation will be regulated by an implanted device placed under the skin in the upper chest, similar to a pacemaker. This device sends signals to the brain electrodes to help modulate neurons and neurotransmitters.
Over time, DBS may help reduce the severity of symptoms. If deep brain stimulation works, your symptoms will improve significantly, DBS isn’t successful for every patient, as there are a number of variables involved in the success of this type of brain stimulation technique.
There are other non-medication treatment options available for helping individuals overcome mental health disorders. These include:
- Eye movement desensitization reprocessing (EMDR)
Holistic Approach to Treatment
Holistic treatment is a fast-growing segment of mental health treatment that offers natural options for those wondering how to treat mental illness without medication. Most holistic activities borrow from time-honored Eastern medical practices that help promote relaxation. When stress is regulated through these holistic therapies, many will find their symptoms diminished in severity. Holistic treatments for mental illness include:
- Fitness and nutrition.
- Massage therapy.
When combining these alternative treatment options with evidence-based psychotherapy, individuals who wonder how to treat mental illness without medication may be pleasantly surprised at the positive results yielded. Individuals with treatment-resistant mental illness should explore alternative routes to wellness.
Anew Era Psychiatry Comprehensive Mental Health Provider for California and Texas
Anew Era Psychiatry is a leader in offering alternative treatment options for mental health disorders. In addition to providing traditional treatment modalities, including medication, Anew Era Psychiatry is a trailblazer in the application of TMS therapy. Anew Era Psychiatry also provides EMDR, holistic therapies, and evidence-based psychotherapy. Offering services throughout California and Texas, Anew Era Psychiatry can be reached at (949) 577-6853.