Risk vs Reward in the Treatment of Mental Illness

July 8, 2019 Natasha Tracy

You have to consider the risk vs the reward in the treatment of mental illness. Well, actually, you have to consider the risk vs the reward in many things but it's particularly critical when you're talking about the treatment of an illness. This is because nothing comes for free. No medication (or alternative treatment, for that matter) comes without side effects. You have to be aware of this going in so you can make a good decision. You have to understand risk vs reward in the treatment of mental illness.

Risk vs Reward in Treatment

When you're diagnosed with an illness, it often seems like you have no options. Often, the doctor tells you what to do and you do it. This makes sense. You're probably overwhelmed by the diagnosis of the illness and you just need someone to lead the way. This is absolutely true of mental illness.

But later, once you've stabilized the illness, you may find out there are more options available to you. In the case of mental illness, for example, there are many antipsychotics to try. There are many antidepressants and even many antidepressant classes to try. There are treatments outside of medication like various psychotherapies, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and so on as well.

And what all these treatments offer is this: risks and rewards. You absolutely have to understand this and carefully consider both parts of that equation. And how you weigh those risks and rewards varies from person to person.

Risk vs Reward in Mental Illness Treatment

I realize that many doctors don't emphasize the risks when it comes to mental illness treatment, but make no mistake, there always are risks. Most risks are not life-threatening and most risks only occur during the treatment, so ceasing treatment tends to remove the risk. This is great news because it means that you can try things, assess what happens to you personally (because all our brains are different), and then make a decision as to whether you want to continue the treatment or not.

However, there are risks that are more serious. Things like liver or kidney damage or permanent movement disorders (tardive dyskinesia, for one) are more concerning. And, of course, there's really no accounting for extremely serious and extremely rare effects, which, honestly, are hard to be concerned with as they can occur with any treatment.

Assessing Risk vs Reward in the Treatment of Mental Illness

So, the first thing you need to do is understand your treatment's risks and rewards. The best way to do this is to have a frank conversation with your doctor. Ask your doctor about the side effects. Ask your doctor about serious effects. Ask your doctor about what they see most commonly. Remember, your doctor treats people like you every day and so he or she is your best resource when it comes to learning what's most likely to occur. 

But you likely will also want to check online for risks when it comes to mental illness treatment. Just make sure you're checking reliable sources like here at HealthyPlace. Medscape is another trusted site for medical information. If you find anything that's concerning, make sure to discuss it with your doctor as he or she can provide more context than what you are likely to find online, plus your doctor knows your personal risk profile.

Once you do this, consider your options.

For example, for me, I hate antipsychotics. I hate them, like, with a passion. I have had all kinds of bad reactions to them and I mostly don't find them tolerable.

But, I can't get by without one, period. My brain needs a complex cocktail of medications and one of those medications has to be an antipsychotic. That's just the way it is. 

That's the assessment of the reward. 

As for the assessment of risk, I take a look at all the antipsychotics that are available to me and I pick the one I hate the least. I may still gain weight, have movement effects and a running nose, but at least it's not as bad as on some of the others. I also know to work with my doctor to find the lowest dose possible.

So even though the risks are pretty sucky, I accept them because of the rewards.

Another example is ECT. It's got some nasty side effects associated with it but I assessed the risk vs the reward equation as acceptable at one time and tried it. 

That said, your equations may look very different. And that's the point. What happens when you try a mental illness treatment is often unique to you so you need to try, create an equation and assess constantly and personally. Your equation is unlikely to look like mine -- and that's okay.

Judging Mental Illness Treatment Risks and Rewards for Others

And because the risk vs reward equation in the treatment of mental illness is unique to the person, none of us have any business judging others based on our own equations. People make choices about treatment that you would never make -- but that's because they're not you. That's okay. That's why I don't tell people my treatment specifics -- I am unique and so are you.

But make no mistake, others will likely judge you for your decisions. People are judgmental, and when it comes to major decisions like mental illness treatment, they seem to be doubly so. 

Really though, it's no one's business judging your choices as they don't know your risk vs reward equation -- and it's not your job to tell them about it either. Stand strong by your choices based on evidence and work with your doctor. That's going to put the risk vs reward equation in your favor the most.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2019, July 8). Risk vs Reward in the Treatment of Mental Illness, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 14 from

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate, and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. She's also the host of the podcast Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace Podcast.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleTwitter, InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

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