If you’ve been diagnosed with depression, how do you know if you’re doing everything you can to get better? Do you have a treatment plan? If so, how well is it working? How effectively are you involving your family and friends in your treatment and recovery? Are there steps you should be taking to increase the effectiveness of your treatment?
Regardless of where you are in your journey to recovering from depression, evaluating the elements of your treatment and support plan is a worthwhile exercise. This article will provide a quick “self-check” to help you determine if you’re staying on track, and to identify steps you might consider taking to make your plan work even harder.
Have I learned all I can about my illness? Have I encouraged my family to become educated, too?
It’s hard to know the remedy when you don’t really understand the problem. If you haven’t already done so, make sure you educate yourself about the causes and symptoms of and treatments for depression. And to help your family members find answers to their questions, consider bringing them to an appointment with your healthcare provider, and/or finding a family workshop or group in your community that you can attend together.
Are my expectations realistic?
It can be easy for patients and family members to get upset when medications or psychotherapy don’t yield results right away. It’s important to realize that, although highly effective for most people, today’s treatment methods are not immediate “magic bullets,” and that often some trial and error is required to find the right treatment approach for each individual. Read more about setting realistic expectations here.
Am I in it for the long haul?
Along with realistic expectations, a long-term commitment to wellness is important when recovering from a depressive illness. Research has shown that a significant percentage of patients choose not to renew their prescriptions, often because they grow impatient with the time it takes to arrive at the right treatment or because they have trouble tolerating side effects. When it comes to treating a chronic illness like depression, treatment can take time to show its effectiveness, and recurrence is common. The important thing is to remain committed to sticking with your treatment for the long term. Remember: it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Do I have good, open communication with those closest to me?
Some degree of conflict is to be expected within every family. Research has shown that, left unaddressed, conflicts can have long term negative consequences for everyone in the family, and hinder the effectiveness of treatment. The key to managing conflict is communication. Working together, you and your family can develop better communication and problem solving skills that will help everyone cope better with life’s everyday challenges. If you feel communication is a problem in your home, consider family therapy. There, you can learn how to speak more openly and compassionately with each other.
Am I being overly critical? Overly sensitive? Unwilling to compromise?
By definition, depressive illnesses make it difficult to see the bright side of life. In working to manage the symptoms and side effects of treatment for depression or bipolar disorder, it’s easy for people suffering from depression – and their loved ones – to criticize, to overreact to criticism from others, and to become entrenched and unwilling to see another point of view. Frequently, especially in cases of bipolar illness, such impasses build up around the issue of taking medication. Family members grow frustrated with the person’s manic episodes or isolation, and press the patient to take his or her meds. Uncomfortable with the side effects of meds or feeling their independence challenged, patients push back. These situations can be difficult to resolve. But with the help of the patient’s healthcare provider and/or a family therapist, families can explore different strategies for compromise. In the meantime, whenever possible, everyone should “check in with themselves” to reflect on their own behaviors and reactions, and look for ways to adopt more cooperative, less contentious attitudes.
Am I taking care of the basics?
If like most patients your treatment plan includes medication and/or psychotherapy, you may be relying solely on those tools to drive your recovery. But an ever-growing body of evidence suggests that the self-care actions one takes, such as paying more attention to exercise, sleep, nutrition and stress reduction, can be just as important in fighting depression as meds and therapy. It can be difficult for people with depression to find the motivation to adopt healthier habits, but the time you invest in these basic building blocks of good health will pay big dividends over time. Learn more about how you can put the tools of self-care to work as part of your treatment plan.
Am I looking out for my family’s well-being, too?
Understandably, family members can get burned out trying to care for someone who is depressed, and addressing the problems the illness can cause in the home. Getting enough sleep and exercise, eating right, learning to relax, manage stress and think positively are all good ways to counter burnout. As you incorporate these self-care strategies into your treatment plan, encourage your family members to join it. They’ll see that you are as concerned about their well-being as they are about yours, and everyone can benefit from adopting healthier habits.
Is my family trying to tell me something? Am I open to their feedback?
Family members are often the first to notice changes in behaviors or symptoms before the person with depression recognizes them in him or herself. That’s not just true for negative changes – family members may also be ahead of you in recognizing when you are getting better. You don’t have to wait for those you love to come to you -- check in with them and ask for their feedback.
Contributions to this article were made by Laura Nitzberg, M.S.W., Adjunct Lecturer, Psychiatry Social Work Division Lead and Social Work Manager in the University of Michigan Department of Psychiatry.