Getting the Most Out of Your Mental Health Treatment Plan

You're being treated for depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia, and already you're feeling better. But how can you ensure that you continue to feel well, you don't relapse, and you can lead a productive, meaningful life? This advice from the experts will help you get the most out of your treatment plan.

  1. Find a doctor you trust, and who will explain why you are being asked to take a particular medication. "It's important to understand what you are being treated for," says Alan Manevitz, MD, clinical psychiatrist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. "You should understand the game plan, partner with your doctor, follow through with appointments, and be compliant with medications that are prescribed."
  2. Take an active role in your healthcare—be accurate and honest with your doctor. "People sometimes feel shy about letting their mental health professional into their life," says Simon Rego, director of psychology training at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. "The problem with mental health disorders is that you can't use X-rays or blood tests to figure them out. You need to rely on a verbal report." So keep your health care provider up to date on how you are feeling.
  3. You should also inform your doctor about how a particular medication is working and let him or her know if you have changed the dose at all. If, for instance, a particular medicine gives you a headache and you’ve decided to cut the dose in half, your doctor needs to know that. "Your doctor may be making certain presumptions based on the belief that you are taking what was prescribed as it was prescribed. If you have made any changes, he or she needs to know," Rego says.

    Richard Bedrosian, PhD, director of behavioral health at Johnson & Johnson Health and Wellness Solutions Group and Wellness & Prevention, Inc., in Ann Arbor, MI., agrees: "If you are not following his recommendations, be open about the reasons why," he says.

  4. Monitor your mood and make a note of any triggers, Rego says. With schizophrenia, for instance, certain situations can trigger either positive symptoms (like delusions or hallucinations) or negative symptoms (such as lack of interest in the world and other people, certain gestures, or a flat affect, which is a severe reduction in emotional expressiveness—speaking in a monotonous voice and having diminished facial expressions, for instance). Symptoms can be triggered by anything, and differ for each person, but once a particular individual becomes more aware of his or her specific triggers, he or she can then learn to anticipate them. Knowing what can set you off can help you to manage these situations whenever possible.
  5. Rego also suggests patients write down any positive and negative symptoms and drug side effects on a daily basis. "Keep the log in a place where you’ll see it at least once per day, like on your nightstand or even your pillow," Rego advises.

    For simple and convenient tracking, you may want to use technology. "There are apps dedicated to keeping track of particular kinds of symptoms, so people should ask their doctors if they have any recommendations," Bedrosian says. "The more convenient the method, the better. That’s one reason why smartphones have really revolutionized the process."

  6. Get a good night's sleep, eat healthy meals regularly, and keep yourself active and involved. While lifestyle changes like these may not always directly target all of the symptoms of your disorder, they can be helpful in maintaining overall good mental health, Rego says. "Taking the best possible care of yourself can help," Bedrosian adds. "It may feel like a drop in the bucket, but it helps."
  7. Find a trusted family member or a friend who understands your illness and will recognize signs that things may be getting out of hand, Manevitz says. It's important that the person you identify is someone you will listen to, so that if symptoms intensify, you will follow that person's advice. Remember, your family will worry less if you share your feelings rather than hide them.
  8. Keep in mind that psychiatric illnesses do recur. You know yourself better than anyone, so learn to recognize your own signs and symptoms of when a recurrence might be happening, Manevitz advises.

Richard Bedrosian, PhD, reviewed this article.


Alan Manevitz, MD. Interview July 2014. 

Simon Rego, PsyD, Associate Professor of Clinical Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Yeshiva University, and director of psychology training at Montefiore Medical Center, Bronx, NY. Interview July 2014.  

Richard Bedrosian, PhD. Interview July 2014.