When seeking care for a mental health concern, doctors at Baylor College of Medicine say there are important steps you can take even before your consultation.

According to Dr. Sanjay Mathew, associate professor in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor, self-care is an important first step in caring for your mental health.

Basic principles

Mathew identifies the following basic principles of self-care that should be addressed:

  • Nutrition
  • Exercise
  • Sleep
  • Reducing caffeine, alcohol and nicotine intake

Keeping a balance

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Dr. Sanjay Mathew, professor in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor.

“When we see a patient, we look at lifestyle factors contributing to why they’re here and not assume that this is something that has to be treated with an antidepressant, because if a patient is drinking too much, only sleeping a few hours a day or under a lot of stress, everything’s going to look like depression,” said Mathew. “Addressing these factors can make a significant impact before we even talk about an antidepressant or mood stabilizer.”

If medication is required, self-care still plays a significant role in the treatment of a mental health concern, according to Dr. Alan Swann, an internationally known researcher in the field of bipolar disorder who was recently recruited to Baylor.

“Regular physical activity, as long as it doesn’t become an obsession, is extremely good for depression and bipolar disorder. It’s not a substitute for medicine, but it’s been shown to help medicine work better,” Swann said. “There’s this interaction between what we do in terms of pharmacology, what can be done in terms of psychotherapy and what the individual with the illness can do for themselves.”

Both Mathew and Swann, who are also with the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center, suggest always seeking help from an expert for mental health concerns.