Several years ago, one of the major pharmaceutical companies had a very cute, animated television commercial promoting one of its newer antidepressants.\u00a0 The indisputable, underlying message?\u00a0 Take this little pill and you\u2019ll soon be happy again. If only it was that simple! Unfortunately, some people have very unrealistic expectations when it comes to their mental health treatment.\u00a0 They assume (or at least hope) that a few therapy sessions or simply taking medication will solve the problem.\u00a0 But it rarely works that way.\u00a0 Humans are complex beings, and so is the interplay between our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.\u00a0 Overcoming or learning to effectively manage a psychiatric disorder or painful life issue is often a multi-faceted process that requires a collaborative effort \u2013 between you and your treatment provider(s). So, how do you make the most of your mental health treatment?\u00a0 If you haven\u2019t already asked yourself that question, you need to.\u00a0 Because there are many things you can do to enhance the process.\u00a0 In fact, by taking a proactive role in your own healing, you reap the additional reward of empowering yourself.\u00a0 And that sense of empowerment can play a significant role in helping you get better! Now, keep in mind, some of things discussed below really are common sense - things your doctor or therapist probably already advised you to do.\u00a0 But others aren\u2019t always addressed, or they\u2019re mentioned once or twice early on, but didn\u2019t really \u201cstick\u201d.\u00a0 After all, when people first seek treatment they\u2019re often feeling at least somewhat overwhelmed, scared, or helpless. Fortunately, you\u2019re not as helpless as you feel, and taking action can help diminish both the fear and sense of overwhelm.\u00a0 Following are several things you can do to ensure you get the most out of your mental health treatment:\r\nStick to your treatment plan.\r\nYes, this tip really is common sense but it\u2019s truly amazing how many people seek mental health treatment and then don\u2019t stick to the plan.\u00a0 They wonder why they\u2019re not getting better, blame their therapist for failing to help them, or decide that treatment is useless.\u00a0 That\u2019s not to say that there aren\u2019t incompetent treatment providers or that the plan is always going to be effective, but if you don\u2019t truly give it a chance, it\u2019s not going to help you. Sticking to the treatment plan includes:\r\n\r\n \tAttending every appointment and therapy session\r\n \tTaking medication exactly as prescribed (if it\u2019s prescribed)\r\n \tDoing any \u201chomework\u201d assignments\r\n \tMaking any recommended adjustments in your lifestyle or daily habits\r\n\r\nIf you\u2019re skipping sessions with your therapist or not consistently taking your medications, you might as well spend your time and money at the mall. The caveat with this first tip is this:\u00a0 If you\u2019ve been closely following your treatment plan for several months, and there\u2019s no improvement, then it\u2019s time to make some adjustments.\u00a0 This leads to the next recommendation:\r\nDon\u2019t be afraid to speak up.\r\nJust because someone has a graduate degree or a prestigious title (especially \u201cDr.\u201d) doesn\u2019t mean he or she is always right or knows everything.\u00a0 Some people are intimidated by health care professionals and feel that questioning their treatment (when it\u2019s not working or something doesn\u2019t feel right) is inappropriate, impolite, or offensive.\u00a0 Having a say in your treatment is part of the collaborative effort, and it provides important feedback for those trying to help you.\u00a0 That\u2019s not to say you should constantly challenge and question everything.\u00a0 There needs to be a reasonable degree of trust as part of the therapeutic relationship in order for treatment to be effective. Speaking up may be especially challenging if you have a history of abuse (especially at the hands of any type of authority figure) or are struggling with certain issues such as social anxiety, low self-esteem, or avoidant tendencies.\u00a0\u00a0 One of the benefits of therapy is that it\u2019s a safe place to try out new (and sometimes uncomfortable) behaviors.\u00a0 If you\u2019re uncertain how to broach the topic, let your therapist know that something\u2019s bothering you that you\u2019d like to discuss, but aren\u2019t sure how to go about it.\u00a0 He or she can help you begin to express yourself effectively.\u00a0\u00a0 A competent therapist will be able to handle your criticisms and concerns.\r\nBe upfront about any alcohol or drug use.\r\nAlcohol and drug use (including any prescription medications you\u2019re taking) are typically addressed in your initial assessment.\u00a0 However, not everyone is honest about whether or not they\u2019re using substances for recreation or self-medication.\u00a0 This includes \u201csocial drinking\u201d.\u00a0 Even though many regard it as acceptable behavior, alcohol use may be interfering with your treatment. If you\u2019re truly serious about your mental health treatment, you must let your treatment providers know about any and all substance use \u2013 past and present.\u00a0 For example, it\u2019s difficult to effectively treat depression if you\u2019re drinking regularly, because alcohol is a depressant and can contribute to your symptoms.\u00a0 If you\u2019re self-medicating in any form, it\u2019s going to hinder your progress.\u00a0 Period.\u00a0 Why learn healthy coping skills and address painful emotions if you can keep falling back on your drug of choice as a means of escape? If you have a substance use disorder, then you may be a good candidate for \u201cdual diagnosis\u201d treatment.\u00a0 This treatment approach is designed to treat both mental health issues and substance use disorders simultaneously.\r\nMake restorative sleep a priority.\r\nThe key word here is \u201crestorative\u201d.\u00a0 You may be sleeping 10 to 12 hours a day, particularly if you\u2019re depressed.\u00a0 But if you\u2019re serious about improving your mental health, getting adequate sleep that truly restores and refreshes both your mind and your body is vital.\u00a0 Of course, doing so is often easier said than done, especially if you\u2019re dealing with bipolar disorder, an anxiety disorder, major depression, PTSD, or psychotic symptoms (e.g. hearing voices). One of the best ways to tackle sleep issues (in addition to working on your mental health issues) is to practice good sleep hygiene.\u00a0 This includes things like going to bed and getting up at the same time every day (including weekends), having a relaxing pre-bedtime ritual (e.g. taking a hot bath or listening to soft music), making sure your bedroom is dark and not too hot or cold, and avoiding or turning off any sources of \u201cblue\u201d light (e.g. the TV, computer, or iPad) 30 to 60 minutes prior to going to bed. It\u2019s difficult to deal with stress, difficult emotions, mood issues, and any other type of mental health problem when you\u2019re sleep deprived. Granted, sometimes this is a \u201cchicken or the egg\u201d issue in terms of which is exacerbating which.\u00a0 But if you\u2019re not being proactive in this area, you are likely undermining your mental health treatment.\r\nDon\u2019t rely solely or primarily on medication.\r\nUnfortunately, there are some treatment providers who recommend medication as the primary treatment for many disorders - sometimes even to the exclusion of therapy and lifestyle changes.\u00a0 Like the old antidepressant commercial mentioned earlier, medication is often overemphasized (and over-used) in the treatment of many mental health conditions.\u00a0 That\u2019s not to say it doesn\u2019t have a place; in fact, sometimes it\u2019s crucial, particularly in the treatment of psychotic disorders or severe mood disorders. There\u2019s nothing abnormal about wanting to feel better as quickly as possible.\u00a0 But relying on a pill is rarely (if ever) the best way to go.\u00a0 The notion that your symptoms are caused solely or primarily by an imbalance in brain chemistry \u2013 an imbalance that can be restored with proper medication \u2013 oversimplifies the problem, to say the least.\u00a0 Scientists still don\u2019t fully understand the human brain or the exact cause of most psychiatric disorders.\u00a0 While brain chemistry likely does play a role in many disorders, other factors, such as poor coping skills and irrational beliefs, are also often part of the picture.\u00a0 Medication doesn\u2019t address those.\u00a0 Therapy does. You see, this oft-touted explanation for depression and many other disorders tends to remove all personal responsibility when it comes to getting better.\u00a0 A young woman being treated for depression in a hospital psychiatric ward once said (in group therapy), \u201cI don\u2019t need therapy; the psychiatrist said my brain chemistry is out of balance and started me on medication\u201d.\u00a0 Why go to therapy (and learn invaluable coping skills or how to improve your relationships) or make changes in your lifestyle (such as practicing good hygiene) if medication is the solution? Far too often, psychiatric medications 1) don\u2019t work at all or provide very limited benefit, 2) require a long process of trial and error, and \/ or 3) cause unpleasant, intolerable, or even potentially dangerous side effects.\u00a0 Not to mention, once stopped, symptoms often return. Mediation can, at times, be highly beneficial.\u00a0\u00a0 But if you rely on it to \u201cfix\u201d whatever ails you, you may be setting yourself up for a lot of frustration and disappointment (not to mention crappy side effects).\u00a0 Most experts agree that medication, if necessary, will be most effective when used in conjunction with (rather than in lieu of) therapy.\r\nBe realistic \u2013 and optimistic.\r\nNo one likes to feel sad, anxious, hopeless, worthless, or lonely. If you\u2019re like most people, you sought treatment because you were feeling (or starting to feel) a bit desperate.\u00a0 You\u2019re seeking a solution to a very difficult problem.\u00a0 And, if you\u2019re normal, you want it fixed yesterday.\u00a0 Not months or years down the road. It\u2019s easy to become impatient and frustrated in the course of mental health treatment.\u00a0 Unfortunately, healing takes time, as does learning to effectively manage a disorder that is generally considered lifelong, like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Some people get into treatment and expect miracles \u2013 fast miracles.\u00a0 While miracles do occasionally occur in life, they\u2019re definitely the exception not the rule.\u00a0 One of the best ways to be realistic is to have a candid discussion with your treatment providers regarding what you can reasonably expect from treatment (assuming you\u2019ll do your part).\u00a0 Can you overcome [whatever it is you\u2019re struggling with] completely?\u00a0 Or is learning to manage it the goal?\u00a0 Discussing these questions upfront will help prepare you for what\u2019s ahead. Regardless of the answers, it\u2019s okay to be optimistic \u2013 at least cautiously optimistic.\u00a0 Hope is a powerful emotion, as it impacts your mindset and how you approach the treatment process.\u00a0 It\u2019s hard to be motivated and do the hard work of therapy if you don\u2019t think it\u2019s going to help or you believe you\u2019ll never get better.\u00a0 Even worse, those negative beliefs can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you\u2019re feeling pessimistic or impatient, discuss your feelings with your therapist.\u00a0 He or she can help you shift your mindset in a way that will positively impact your treatment.\r\nExercise regularly.\r\nYou may be thinking, \u201cWait a minute, I\u2019m trying to overcome depression not lose weight or compete in a marathon!\u201d \u00a0That may be true.\u00a0 However, research has shown that exercise plays a vital role in our emotional and cognitive wellbeing.\u00a0 Regular exercise has been shown to improve mood, boost self-confidence and self-esteem, improve sleep, reduce anxiety, and alleviate stress. If you rarely exercise and are struggling with depression, anxiety, or any other mental health disorder, a brisk 30-minute walk several days a week may be more beneficial than you ever thought possible.\u00a0 If you find it difficult to get motivated, enlist the help of an exercise partner.\u00a0 Don\u2019t expect overnight miracles, as the real benefits will appear over time. \u00a0Of course, always get your doctor\u2019s okay before embarking on an exercise regimen, especially if you\u2019ve been sedentary or have any medical issues.\r\nFind healthy ways to reduce stress.\r\nStress hinders healing, whether it\u2019s from a physical ailment, such as cancer, or a psychiatric disorder such as PTSD.\u00a0 Granted, like troubled sleep, mental health issues create additional (and often chronic) stress, and stress can trigger and exacerbate mental health issues.\u00a0 Either way, learning to manage and reduce the stress in your life will definitely enhance your mental health treatment. One of the ways to reduce stress is to take inventory of the things that are causing it in the first place.\u00a0 Can you delegate tasks, say \u201cno\u201d more often to the demands of others, or stop putting it overtime at work?\u00a0 Is it time to end or take a break from a toxic relationship?\u00a0 Prioritizing your time, breaking large tasks into smaller ones, and planning ahead are just a few ways to reduce stress. Eliciting support from others (if possible) and adding fun to your life (even in just small ways) will also help ease the stress you\u2019re experiencing. Last but not least, regular exercise, meditation, and yoga are all proven ways to reduce stress, help you feel more relaxed and centered, and strengthen your emotional and mental reserves. Your mental health treatment isn\u2019t \u2013 and shouldn\u2019t be \u2013 a one-way street.\u00a0 Your treatment providers may be very competent, but your own efforts and actions can play a significant role in in determining how much benefit you will get out of treatment.\u00a0 Don\u2019t feel you need to tackle everything at once. Start by choosing one or two things on the list above, and go from there.\u00a0 Be patient with both yourself and the process.