Whether you’ve been seeing the same psychiatrist for your entire adult life or you’re considering psychiatry services for the first time, you could probably benefit from taking a more intentional approach to your relationship with your psychiatrist.

1. Be honest about what else you put in your body

Medication prescribed for depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders works by changing the chemistry of your brain. Ingesting alcohol or recreational drugs can change the impact of your prescription medications, making them less effective. Some reactions can even cause life-threatening side effects. Being honest with your psychiatry service provider about alcohol or drug use helps you get the most out of your time with them, and allows the psychiatrist to make sure your medication is doing what it’s supposed to do.

If you’re feeling shy about sharing, consider:

  • Changing your alcohol or drug use - if you can’t be honest about it, the safest way to ensure your medication works as it’s supposed to is to stop consuming drugs or alcohol.
  • Asking your psychiatry service provider (psychiatrist) to remind you about their confidentiality policy, and any limitations to it. Psychiatrists won’t break confidentiality unless they think you are at imminent risk of hurting yourself or hurting someone else.
  • Finding a psychiatrist you do feel comfortable being honest with. You deserve a psychiatrist you trust and who understands you. If you don’t trust them or get along with them, they’re not going to get the full picture, and won’t be able to give you the care you deserve. If you choose to go this route, consider continuing to see your current psychiatrist until you’ve successfully scheduled an appointment with a new one, as wait lists can be up to several months.

2. Be clear in what your priorities are

The primary reason people go to a psychiatry service provider is to “feel better” and improve their mental and emotional health. But being healthy looks different for different people. Make a list of the components of your health, for yourself and to share with your psychiatrist. Consider:

  • How do you want to feel? How don’t you want to feel?
  • How often and when do you want to sleep?
  • How often do you want sex? What does a healthy sex life look like to you?
  • Where do you want to see improved function? At work? At school? In your relationship with your partner? In your parenting?
  • Do you want to be able to drink alcohol? Take recreational drugs? How often?
  • Do you want to become pregnant? Avoid pregnancy?
  • The capacity for physical activity or dexterity.
  • Any other things that are important to your quality of life, relationships, and emotional health.

Think about what on the list is most important to you. For instance, would you be willing to put up with a sub-par sex life if it meant improved mood and the ability to sleep through the night?

Sharing this list with your psychiatrist will help them directly understand your priorities, and help you to make sure your expectations are realistic.

3. Be honest about your mood

At first glance, this tip seems the most straightforward- you are after all going to see a psychiatrist because you want to improve your mood. However, it can also be the most difficult. Finding the right medication sometimes takes a few tries, and it can be understandably frustrating to feel like you’re starting all over again because your current medication got rid of your anxious thoughts but introduced feelings of depression. You might want to “tough it out” or ignore “minor” mood symptoms in the hope that they’ll go away naturally or the mistaken belief that “this is how it is now.” Being honest with your psychiatrist gives them the full picture, and ensures you get the best treatment for you.

4. See a therapist, within the same practice

If you can, seeing a therapist in addition to a psychiatrist is a great way to comprehensively protect your mental health. While psychiatrists and medications can help you manage your emotional baseline, a therapist and behavioral approaches can help you build a toolbox to handle stressful contexts. This is important because life isn’t a vacuum, you can’t control when stressful situations might pop up and trigger higher levels of symptom flare-ups. Seeing a therapist within the same practice as the psychiatrist allows them to work closely together, keeping each other in the loop about changes in your life, mood or medication, so that you don’t fall through the cracks.

 

Managing your mental health, and the resources available to you is important. Building an intentional relationship with your psychiatrist by being honest about your consumption, your priorities, and your mood all ensure you’ll get the best care possible from your psychiatrist.