According to Alpert, you can enhance your treatment by participating in healthy habits, such as exercising, eating nutrient-rich foods and keeping a consistent sleep-wake cycle. (Here’s more on doing things when you’re depressed.)
However, it’s important not to set high expectations, create a long list or be critical. If patients can do one thing, Hyland said, it’s to practice mindfulness. “That’s one of the best things I can help patients do.” This doesn’t mean meditating (unless you’d like to). Simply practice being an observer, she said. Observe your thoughts and feelings without judgment. Be patient and compassionate with yourself.
Hyland also suggested getting more support. “A doctor is rarely enough.” This could be asking your friend to accompany you to a doctor’s appointment or attending a support group, she said.
If you have a hard time remembering to take your medication, incorporate it into your routine, Alpert said. For instance, “take your medication when you brush your teeth in the morning or at night.” Keep the medication in the same place on the bathroom counter, or use a pillbox, he said.
Hyland creates a treatment plan for all her patients. She recommended individuals do the same for themselves. For instance, on your plan, you might write that if your energy doesn’t increase in four weeks, you’ll make a follow-up appointment; if you start having suicidal thoughts, you’ll see your practitioner immediately; when you’re feeling upset, you’ll talk to your pastor. This way, when you’re having an especially tough time, you don’t have to rely on your brain to make a wise decision. It’s already been made for you.
It’s also important to remember that if a treatment doesn’t work it’s not your fault. According to Alpert, “people will think they’ve failed, aren’t a good patient or their depression can’t be treated. The reality is that our medications are limited. Antidepressants don’t work nearly as well as we wish they did.” A person may need to try three medications before finding the right one.
Communication is Key
The other key factor in making the most of your treatment is to communicate regularly with your providers. Many people view doctors as all-knowing authorities, and they’re afraid to speak up, ask questions or voice their concerns.
But you’re more likely to get the best treatment when you keep the communication lines open. Be honest with your prescribing physician, and ask questions. Both Alpert and Hyland suggested several critical questions to ask.