What can you do if nothing is working?

Do you feel like you’ve tried everything and nothing seems to be working? It can be so exhausting when you’ve been working really hard to feel better and trying everything that others have suggested, and yet nothing seems to be helping. This is a really common experience when you’re living with anxiety, depression or another mental health condition, and it's important that you know that it's not your fault if you aren’t getting better.

Mental health difficulties are complicated and diverse – there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Something that works well for someone else might not work at all for you. While getting tips from others can be helpful sometimes, it can also make us feel worse when their ‘easy solution’ just doesn’t make a difference for us. Keep reading for some ideas on what you can do from here.

Common barriers to getting better

‘None of the self-help strategies work for me’

Most longer-term mental health difficulties cannot be overcome with self-help strategies alone; they also require professional treatments such as psychology sessions or medication. If you haven’t yet seen a GP or asked about other things that can help, now is probably the right time to bring in the professionals.

‘I’ve tried getting professional help, and that doesn’t work’

Unfortunately, there are many mental health and medical professionals out there who won’t ‘get’ you and your circumstances. Remember: what works for one person might not work for another. It sucks if you haven’t been able to find someone who ‘gets’ you, understands your problems and is able to offer you solutions that suit you.

If you feel this way, you don’t have to stick with the same person or medication. There are heaps of really great GPs, psychologists and psychiatrists out there who do have the right kinds of skills and experience to help you.

‘I’m tired of trying, and I want to give up’

You might be feeling like you don’t have the energy anymore to keep seeking help and trying to get better – but don’t give up yet, because there is still hope. A bit of open-mindedness and one more step could be all that’s needed. You’ve made it this far – why not give it one more try?

See if you can get a friend, family member, youth worker or mentor to support you through your next attempt at getting some help. It can make a huge difference if you have someone in your corner who encourages you, reminds you to keep trying, and holds you accountable for completing your therapy homework, refilling your prescriptions or meditating regularly. Once you have your support person on-board, it’s time to set yourself up for success by building your dream team.

Finding the right approach for you

The right people

Finding the right doctor and therapist is crucial to getting better. It’s actually kind of like dating; you might have to try a few doctors until you find one you like, trust and feel safe with. The quality of the relationship between a patient and their mental health professional has been found to be one of the strongest predictors of treatment success – so it's important that you feel comfortable with your psychologist.

You may also find that you want someone you can relate to in terms of, for example, their culture, sexuality, gender, or other life experiences. Or, you might prefer someone whose experience is completely different from yours and can offer a fresh perspective.

Read the transcript.

The right treatment method

Ask your psychologist what type of treatment they’re using, and discuss trying something else if that treatment doesn’t work for you. It takes some courage to be honest with yourself and your doctor if you feel their treatment isn’t making a difference.

Some long-term mental health difficulties benefit from specific treatments, so it’s important to fight the symptoms with the right tools.

The right combination

Just like we recognise that self-help strategies alone are often not enough, the same goes for therapy and medications. The best treatment for long-term mental health difficulties tends to involve a combination of psychological treatment, lifestyle changes and medication. This is why it’s important to have a team that will work to address your unique needs.

Be open to mixing things up: try new things, or try the same things in different combinations or at different times.

Give it time

Many medications and therapies take a little while to start working. For example, antidepressant medication often takes 4–6 weeks to start easing the symptoms of depression, and up to 12 weeks may be needed to start to feel relief from other mental health difficulties (such as OCD).

Most psychological therapy programs are designed to be delivered across 8–20 sessions, or longer for some more complex conditions. If you’re unsure, talk to your clinician about when they’d expect for you to notice a change.

If you’re working hard to get better but aren’t feeling any different, it’s important to remember that it’s not your fault. Mental health problems are complex and they need effective treatments if you’re to get better. If what you’ve been doing hasn’t been working, it sounds like it’s time to try a different approach: get a second opinion, ask to try a different therapy approach, switch to a new therapist or GP, or request a change of medication.

While professionals have specialist knowledge in mental health, you are the expert about yourself. If you aren’t feeling better, you have the right to say, ‘Hey, this isn’t working. I want to try something/someone else.’ With the right support around you and the right treatment approach, you can learn to cope with mental health difficulties and feel better.

Written by Amy Burton (Clinical Psychologist).

What can I do now?

  • Learn more about treatments for anxiety and depression.

  • Do you want to chat with a peer worker? Book a free, text-based session with ReachOut PeerChat here.