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Caring for Your Mental Health

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Mental health includes emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, act, make choices, and relate to others. Mental health is more than the absence of a mental illness—it’s essential to your overall health and quality of life. Self-care can play a role in maintaining your mental health and help support your treatment and recovery if you have a mental illness.

About Self-Care

Self-care means taking the time to do things that help you live well and improve both your physical health and mental health. When it comes to your mental health, self-care can help you manage stress, lower your risk of illness, and increase your energy. Even small acts of self-care in your daily life can have a big impact.

Here are some tips to help you get started with self-care:

  • Get regular exercise.  Just 30 minutes of walking every day can help boost your mood and improve your health. Small amounts of exercise add up, so don’t be discouraged if you can’t do 30 minutes at one time.
  • Eat healthy, regular meals and stay hydrated. A balanced diet and plenty of water can improve your energy and focus throughout the day. Also, limit caffeinated beverages such as soft drinks or coffee.
  • Make sleep a priority . Stick to a schedule, and make sure you’re getting enough sleep. Blue light from devices and screens can make it harder to fall asleep, so reduce blue light exposure from your phone or computer before bedtime.
  • Try a relaxing activity.  Explore relaxation or wellness programs or apps, which may incorporate meditation, muscle relaxation, or breathing exercises. Schedule regular times for these and other healthy activities you enjoy such as journaling.
  • Set goals and priorities.  Decide what must get done now and what can wait. Learn to say “no” to new tasks if you start to feel like you’re taking on too much. Try to be mindful of what you have accomplished at the end of the day, not what you have been unable to do.
  • Practice gratitude. Remind yourself daily of things you are grateful for. Be specific. Write them down at night, or replay them in your mind.
  • Focus on positivity . Identify and challenge your negative and unhelpful thoughts.
  • Stay connected.  Reach out to your friends or family members who can provide emotional support and practical help.

Self-care looks different for everyone, and it is important to find what you need and enjoy. It may take trial and error to discover what works best for you. In addition, although self-care is not a cure for mental illnesses, understanding what causes or triggers your mild symptoms and what coping techniques work for you can help manage your mental health.

For other ideas for healthy practices for your mind, body, surroundings, and relationships, see the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Wellness Toolkits  .

When to Seek Professional Help

Seek professional help if you are experiencing severe or distressing symptoms that have lasted 2 weeks or more, such as:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Appetite changes that result in unwanted weight changes
  • Struggling to get out of bed in the morning because of mood
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Loss of interest in things you usually find enjoyable
  • Inability to perform usual daily functions and responsibilities

Don’t wait until your symptoms are overwhelming. Talk about your concerns with your primary care provider, who can refer you to a mental health professional if needed. If you don’t know where to start, read the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Tips for Talking With a Health Care Provider About Your Mental Health . Learn more about how to get help or find a provider on the NIMH’s Help for Mental Illnesses webpage .

What to Do in a Crisis

If you or someone you know is struggling or having thoughts of suicide, call or text the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline   at 988 or chat at   . This service is confidential, free, and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In life-threatening situations, call 911. 

For additional information about suicide prevention, please see NIMH’s Suicide Prevention webpage .

Featured Videos

NIMH Expert Discusses Managing Stress & Anxiety:  Learn coping techniques to help maintain your mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic and when to get professional help.

GREAT: Helpful Practices to Manage Stress and Anxiety:  Learn about helpful practices to manage stress and anxiety. GREAT was developed by Dr. Krystal Lewis, a licensed clinical psychologist at NIMH.

Getting to Know Your Brain: Dealing with Stress:  Test your knowledge about stress and the brain. Also learn how to create and use a “ stress catcher ” to practice strategies to deal with stress.

Guided Visualization: Dealing with Stress:  Learn how the brain handles stress and practice a guided visualization activity.

Mental Health Minute: Stress and Anxiety in Adolescents: Got 60 seconds? Take a mental health minute to learn about stress and anxiety in adolescents.

Featured Fact Sheets

My Mental Health

Federal Resources

  • NIH Emotional Wellness Toolkit   : This NIH toolkit provides six strategies for improving your emotional health.
  • NIH Social Wellness Toolkit   : This NIH toolkit provides six strategies for improving your social health.
  • MedlinePlus: How to Improve Mental Health   : MedlinePlus provides health information and tips for improving your mental health.
  • CDC: Coping With Stress   : CDC provides information on how to cope with stress.

Other Resources

Note: This list of non-federal resources is provided for informational purposes only. It is not comprehensive and does not constitute an endorsement by NIMH, NIH, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, or the U.S. government.

  • DBSA Wellness Toolbox   (Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance)
  • Live Your Life Well   (Mental Health America)
  • Mental Health: Keeping Your Emotional Health   (American Academy of Family Physicians)

Last Reviewed: December 2022

Unless otherwise specified, the information on our website and in our publications is in the public domain and may be reused or copied without permission. However, you may not reuse or copy images. Please cite the National Institute of Mental Health as the source. Read our copyright policy to learn more about our guidelines for reusing NIMH content.

11 Tips to Support Someone Struggling With Mental Health

Listen without judgment and offer support while looking after yourself.

This article is based on reporting that features expert sources.

Two young pretty women sitting and talking in the street café, Buenos Aires, Argentina.

(Getty Images)

Mental health concerns are common.

Though mental health concerns are common, it can be difficult to watch a loved one struggling with these issues. Whether it’s depression or anxiety , bipolar disorder , schizophrenia or another of the many mental health issues that can affect someone’s life, looking out for a loved one who’s experiencing this kind of challenge requires some finesse and a lot of patience.

Here, several mental health professionals offer their tips for how best to support a friend or loved one who’s struggling with any kind of mental health issue.

A woman sat at her dining table at home, listening to and taking advice from an on call nurse who has come to visit her. The patient has a concerned look on her face.

1. Start a conversation.

David Bond, director of behavioral health for Blue Shield of California, says a good place to start is by opening up a conversation . “It can feel uncomfortable bringing up issues surrounding mental health, but showing an interest in a discussion is the first step in creating a safe space for those who might be struggling.”

Mother and daughter at home having a  talk at home

When a friend or loved one is struggling with a mental health issue , it can be difficult to resist the temptation to “give advice, reassure or preach,” says Nicole Siegfried, a licensed clinical psychologist, certified eating disorder specialist and chief clinical officer at Lightfully Behavioral Health based in Thousand Oaks, California.

“At the core of most mental health disorders is feelings of disconnection and lack of belonging. When met with listening rather than lecturing, individuals with mental health disorders are more likely to feel understood and seen, which opens the door to them receiving more help.”

While listening, be sure to avoid the impulse to fix things, says Nick Allen, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Oregon and co-founder of Ksana Health, a behavioral health company that uses technology to provide personalized insights and interventions to improve mental health care.

“Listen to their experience and don’t make the conversation about you,” he explains. Listening to someone speak about their experience "can be very challenging because the listener often feels uncomfortable and feels the need to fix the situation quickly. However, this can make the person sharing their experience feel worse.”

Focused african american man looking speaking to woman having business talk negotiating explaining, serious black guy having conversation with girlfriend friend discussing important issues at meeting

3. Validate.

The next step after listening is validating your loved one’s concerns. “Validation does not mean that you approve or agree,” Siegfried notes. Instead, “it means that you understand or want to understand and that you’re trying to see things through the lens of the other person. You may not completely understand their experience, but as humans, we all understand suffering, so we can try to put ourselves in another person’s shoes to understand their pain.”

Allen notes that it’s common for the listener to respond with “toxic positivity,” which is when the listener “does not acknowledge the speaker’s experience and dismisses the situation by being seemingly positive on the surface.” Moving directly into problem-solving before the person has had a chance to describe their experience can be invalidating.

Instead, listen fully and don’t minimize what the person is feeling or expressing in a judgment-free way, says Tyish Hall Brown, a licensed clinical psychologist and associate professor at Howard University College of Medicine in Washington, D.C. “It’s important for your loved one to feel safe so that they may be open to talking to you honestly about the mental health challenges they currently face.”

A delivery person knocks on the door of a customer's home. He is leaving the contactless delivery order on the customer's doorstep.

4. Support.

When someone is grappling with a mental health disorder , it’s often difficult for them to “muster the strength and bandwidth to do what needs to be done to begin the recovery process,” Siegfried says. “Providing help in tangible ways makes a difference.”

You can offer that support by focusing on concrete and specific tasks. “Sometimes asking ‘what can I do to help?’ isn’t enough,” as it places the burden back on the person with the condition to tell you what they need. “In some cases it’s better just to provide support without waiting for an invitation,” Siegfried says, adding that setting up an outing, bringing over a meal or inviting the person to the movies can all be good starting points to extend needed support.

Mature adult business people to chat outside the office.

5. Avoid labeling.

Frank Borunda, a licensed behavioral health clinician with L.A. Care Health Plan, says you should “avoid labeling individuals with ‘you’re depressed ’ or ‘you’re anxious,’ and choose to use language such as, ‘it seems like you’ve been distracted lately, would you like to talk about it?’ Help them explore their current support and coping systems, and then offer them therapy resources, phrasing it in a way where they can make the decision to seek therapy and have a safe, nonjudgmental space.”

He adds that you should also avoid using certain colloquial phrases such as insane, crazy and unstable. “Despite these being incorporated in our everyday language, it can make someone feel ashamed of sharing any experienced mental health issues.”

Young gay couple sitting on their apartment balcony in the city and talking over cups of coffee

6. Be patient.

Mental health issues can take a long time to resolve, and it may also take your loved one a while to accept professional help when needed. But Allen says you need to avoid pushing them before they’re comfortable moving forward. “Pushing people to seek help before they’re ready is not helpful because it can often create resistance to seeking help. In most cases, for the situation to progress positively the individual must feel ready to receive care.”

Even after someone is receiving care, challenges may remain, Hall Brown notes. “There may not be a quick fix for a loved one diagnosed with a mental health condition. You need to be prepared to potentially support your loved one for an extended period of time , and possibly over the course of their lifetime. That support may look different as they transition out of a crisis and into daily maintenance, but nonetheless, prepare to support them for as long as they may need you.”

Photo of a senior couple, hiking through the forest and exploring nature

7. Don't crowd them.

Hall Brown notes that it’s important to find the right rhythm for supporting your loved one in a way that works for them without them feeling smothered. You might want to check in daily if they’re in crisis, or less often when symptoms ease .

“During these conversations you don’t necessarily have to talk about their mental health issues. Often discussing everyday things is a welcome distraction from the narrative that may be replaying in their minds. Reminiscing about old times, ‘spilling the tea’ about recent events within your social circles and sharing humorous quotes, memes or videos can brighten their day.”

Bond adds that because “mental health issues will never be resolved overnight,” having regular check-ins is important. “Make it a habit and keep the dialogue going.”

Senior couple sitting at a dining table, using a laptop computer, paperwork and bills on the table.

8. Strategize finding support.

Borunda says helping your loved one strategize a plan for how to access care can be a big support. “Someone’s mental health journey can be intimidating at first. If someone is reluctant, assist them with finding local county resources and numbers for mental health or local substance abuse support teams.”

He also recommends starting small and building gradually if your loved one is resistant to seeking care. Encourage them to reach out to their primary care provider , as often people are more willing to accept support from a provider they already have a relationship with rather than reaching out to someone they don’t know.

“Normalize the fact that many people seek professional help and that by seeking professional help the person is not ‘weak’ or ‘broken,’” Hall Brown says. “Let them know that they can always stop if they don’t find it helpful, but at least give it a try because what they’re going through is more than what they might be able to handle on their own in the moment.”

Serious couple looking at each other sitting on park bench

9. Watch what you say.

Siegfried notes there are a few things you should avoid saying to someone struggling with a mental health issue . Watch out for the following statements:

  • “If you were more positive, you wouldn’t feel like this.” This blames the person who’s struggling for how they feel.
  • “Don’t tell anyone because they will see you in a different light.” This is highly stigmatizing.
  • “This will pass with time.” Not every mental health issue is a short-term experience, and statements like these can offer false hope.
  • “Pray more and that will fix it.” Although spirituality and religion can provide support for individuals with mental health disorders, the same way it might for someone with physical or medical problems, it’s not always a substitute for professional help.

Allen adds that because there’s a “ stigma around mental health , particularly the belief that mental health problems are different from other types of health conditions,” you need to be careful not to discourage someone from asking for support. “When a person is opening up about their mental health concerns, experiencing rejection can be one of the worst outcomes some can experience. People experiencing mental health problems need consistent and steady social support.”

Bond notes that you should resist the urge to compare your loved one’s pain to others. “When we do that, we end up making those that we care about so much feel like their emotions and experiences don’t matter.”

how to deal with mental health recovery

10. Find support for yourself.

“Taking care of others requires taking care of yourself,” Borunda says. You can’t be effective in caring for someone else if you let your own health and well-being fall by the wayside . Instead, make time to do the things you need to stay healthy. Reduce stress , eat right, get enough sleep and look after your own mental well-being.

Siegfried notes that often, caregivers need to seek “their own mental health support while navigating the challenges of supporting someone with a mental illness.” With that, Hall Brown adds that “mental health conditions are not contagious. Just because you’re supporting someone with a mental illness does not mean that you or anyone else will develop a similar condition.”

And Bond adds, “like on an airplane where you’re asked to put your oxygen mask on first before helping those around you, we cannot suppress our own mental health needs for those of others.”

The added bonus of taking care of yourself is that you’ll also be modeling “ healthy coping mechanisms for your loved one,” he says. “Show them how you’re prioritizing mental well-being so they feel comfortable doing the same.”

A multi-ethnic group of adults attending a group therapy session attentively listen to a fellow attendee share their feelings and experiences. The image is focused on a compassionate Indian woman at the center of the image. Vulnerability, community and mental health concepts.

11. Know that mental health issues are treatable.

Lastly, Hall Brown notes that “mental health conditions are treatable . Many people with mental health conditions live long, successful, productive lives despite the added challenges that a mental health condition may bring.”

Two sisters or siblings having a discussion about something serious

11 tips to support someone struggling with mental health:

  • Start a conversation.
  • Avoid labeling.
  • Be patient.
  • Don’t crowd them.
  • Strategize finding support.
  • Watch what you say.
  • Find support for yourself.
  • Know that mental health issues are treatable.

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The U.S. News Health team delivers accurate information about health, nutrition and fitness, as well as in-depth medical condition guides. All of our stories rely on multiple, independent sources and experts in the field, such as medical doctors and licensed nutritionists. To learn more about how we keep our content accurate and trustworthy, read our  editorial guidelines .

Allen is a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Oregon and co-founder of Ksana Health, a behavioral health company that uses technology to provide personalized insights and interventions to improve mental health care.

Bond has more than 10 years of experience as a youth psychotherapist and he's a board-certified expert in traumatic stress. He is director of behavioral health for Blue Shield of California and works directly with Blue Shield of California’s BlueSky Initiative, which enhances access, awareness and advocacy of youth mental health supports in collaboration with the California Department of Education and leading nonprofits.

Borunda is a licensed behavioral health clinician with L.A. Care Health Plan, the largest publicly operated health plan in the country.

Hall Brown is a licensed clinical psychologist and associate professor at Howard University College of Medicine in Washington, D.C.

Siegfried is a licensed clinical psychologist, certified eating disorder specialist and chief clinical officer at Lightfully Behavioral Health, based in Thousand Oaks, California.

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100 Ways to Support Recovery  is a free practical guide for mental health professionals to work in a recovery-oriented way. Since publication in 2009, the first edition has been downloaded more than 23,000 times.   100 Ways to Support Recovery  has since been updated with references to new knowledge on how you can support someone with a mental illness. The second edition (2013) of this popular publication is available to download now.

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The link between substance abuse and mental health

What comes first: substance abuse or the mental health problem, recognizing a dual diagnosis , signs and symptoms of substance abuse, signs and symptoms of common co-occurring disorders, treatment for a dual diagnosis, finding the right treatment program , self-help for a dual diagnosis, group support , helping a loved one with a dual diagnosis, dual diagnosis: substance abuse and mental health.

Dealing with co-occurring disorders? Learn how to tackle addiction when you're also dealing with depression, anxiety, or another mental health problem.

how to deal with mental health recovery

When you have both a substance abuse problem and a mental health issue such as depression, bipolar disorder, or anxiety, it is called a co-occurring disorder or dual diagnosis. Dealing with substance abuse, alcoholism, or drug addiction is never easy, and it’s even more difficult when you’re also struggling with mental health problems.

In co-occurring disorders, both the mental health issue and the drug or alcohol addiction have their own unique symptoms that may get in the way of your ability to function at work or school, maintain a stable home life, handle life's difficulties, and relate to others. To make the situation more complicated, the co-occurring disorders also affect each other. When a mental health problem goes untreated, the substance abuse problem usually gets worse. And when alcohol or drug abuse increases, mental health problems usually increase too.

Co-occurring substance abuse problems and mental health issues are more common than many people realize. According to reports published in the Journal of the American Medical Association :

  • Roughly 50 percent of individuals with severe mental disorders are affected by substance abuse.
  • 37 percent of alcohol abusers and 53 percent of drug abusers also have at least one serious mental illness.
  • Of all people diagnosed as mentally ill, 29 percent abuse alcohol or drugs.

While substance abuse problems and mental health issues don't get better when they're ignored—in fact, they are likely to get much worse—it's important to know that you don't have to feel this way. There are things you can do to conquer your demons, repair your relationships, and get on the road to recovery. With the right support, self-help, and treatment, you can overcome a co-occurring disorder, reclaim your sense of self, and get your life back on track.

Speak to a Licensed Therapist

Substance abuse and mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety are closely linked, although one doesn’t necessarily directly cause the other. Abusing substances such as marijuana or methamphetamine can cause prolonged psychotic reactions, while alcohol can make depression and anxiety symptoms worse. Also:

Alcohol and drugs are often used to self-medicate the symptoms of mental health problems. People often abuse alcohol or drugs to ease the symptoms of an undiagnosed mental disorder, to cope with difficult emotions, or to temporarily change their mood. Unfortunately, self-medicating with drugs or alcohol causes side effects and in the long run often worsens the symptoms they initially helped to relieve.

Alcohol and drug abuse can increase the underlying risk for mental disorders. Since mental health problems are caused by a complex interplay of genetics, the environment, and other factors, it’s difficult to say if abusing substances ever directly causes them. However, if you are at risk for a mental health issue, abusing alcohol or drugs may push you over the edge. For example, there is some evidence that those who abuse opioid painkillers are at greater risk for depression and heavy cannabis use has been linked to an increased risk for schizophrenia.

Alcohol and drug abuse can make symptoms of a mental health problem worse. Substance abuse may sharply increase symptoms of mental illness or even trigger new symptoms. Abuse of alcohol or drugs can also interact with medications such as antidepressants, anxiety medications , and mood stabilizers, making them less effective at managing symptoms and delaying your recovery.

It can be difficult to identify a dual diagnosis. It takes time to tease out what might be a mental health disorder and what might be a drug or alcohol problem. The signs and symptoms also vary depending upon both the mental health problem and the type of substance being abused, whether it’s alcohol, recreational drugs, or prescription medications. For example, the signs of depression and marijuana abuse could look very different from the signs of schizophrenia and alcohol abuse. However, there are some general warning signs that you may have a co-occurring disorder:

  • Do you use alcohol or drugs to cope with unpleasant memories or feelings, to control pain or the intensity of your moods, to face situations that frighten you, or to stay focused on tasks?
  • Have you noticed a relationship between your substance use and your mental health? For example, do you get depressed when you drink? Or drink when you’re feeling anxious or plagued by unpleasant memories?
  • Has someone in your family grappled with either a mental disorder or alcohol or drug abuse?
  • Do you feel depressed, anxious, or otherwise out of balance even when you’re sober?
  • Have you previously been treated for either your addiction or your mental health problem? Did the substance abuse treatment fail because of complications from your mental health issue or vice versa?

Dual diagnosis and denial

Denial is common in both substance abuse and mental health issues. It’s often hard to admit how dependent you are on alcohol or drugs or how much they affect your life. Similarly, the symptoms of conditions such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or PTSD can be frightening, so you may try to ignore them and hope they go away. Or you may be ashamed or afraid of being viewed as weak if you admit you have a problem.

But substance abuse and mental health issues can happen to any of us. And admitting you have a problem and seeking help is the first step on the road to recovery.

Abused substances include prescription medications (such as opioid painkillers, ADHD medications, and sedatives), recreational or street drugs (such as marijuana, methamphetamines, and cocaine), and alcohol (beer, wine, and liquor). A substance abuse problem is not defined by what drug you use or the type of alcohol you drink, though. Rather, it comes down to the effects your drug or alcohol use has on your life and relationships. In short, if your drinking or drug use is causing problems in your life, you have a substance abuse problem.

To help you spot the signs of a substance abuse problem, answering the following questions may help. The more “yes” answers you provide, the more likely your drinking or drug use has become a problem.

  • Have you ever felt you should cut down on your drinking or drug use?
  • Do you need to use more and more drugs or alcohol to attain the same effects on your mood or outlook?
  • Have you tried to cut back, but couldn't?
  • Do you lie about how much or how often you drink or use drugs?
  • Are you going through prescription medication at a faster-than-expected rate?
  • Have your friends or family members expressed concern about your alcohol or drug use?
  • Do you ever feel bad, guilty, or ashamed about your drinking or drug use?
  • Have you done or said things while drunk or high that you later regretted?
  • Has your alcohol or drug use caused problems at work, school, or in your relationships?
  • Has your alcohol or drug use gotten you into trouble with the law?

The mental health problems that most commonly co-occur with substance abuse are depression , bipolar disorder , and anxiety disorders .

Common signs and symptoms of depression

  • Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
  • Loss of interest in daily activities
  • Inability to experience pleasure
  • Appetite or weight changes
  • Sleep changes
  • Loss of energy
  • Strong feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Concentration problems
  • Anger, physical pain, and reckless behavior (especially in men)

Common signs and symptoms of anxiety

  • Excessive tension and worry
  • Feeling restless or jumpy
  • Irritability or feeling “on edge”
  • Racing heart or shortness of breath
  • Nausea, trembling, or dizziness
  • Muscle tension, headaches
  • Trouble concentrating

Common sign and symptoms of mania in bipolar disorder

  • Feelings of euphoria or extreme irritability
  • Unrealistic, grandiose beliefs
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • Increased energy
  • Rapid speech and racing thoughts
  • Impaired judgment and impulsivity
  • Hyperactivity
  • Anger or rage

Other mental health problems that commonly co-occur with substance abuse or addiction include Schizophrenia , Borderline Personality Disorder , and PTSD.

The best treatment for co-occurring disorders is an integrated approach, where both the substance abuse problem and the mental disorder are treated simultaneously. Whether your mental health or substance abuse problem came first, long-term recovery depends on getting treatment for both disorders by the same treatment provider or team. Depending on your specific issues:

Treatment for your mental health problem may include medication, individual or group counseling, self-help measures, lifestyle changes, and peer support.

Treatment for your substance abuse may include detoxification, managing of withdrawal symptoms, behavioral therapy, and support groups to help maintain your sobriety.

Make sure that the program is appropriately licensed and accredited, the treatment methods are backed by research, and there is an aftercare program to prevent relapse. Additionally, you should make sure that the program has experience with your particular mental health issue. Some programs, for example, may have experience treating depression or anxiety, but not schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

There are a variety of approaches that treatment programs may take, but there are some basics of effective treatment that you should look for:

  • Treatment addresses both the substance abuse problem and your mental health problem.
  • You share in the decision-making process and are actively involved in setting goals and developing strategies for change.
  • Treatment includes basic education about your disorder and related problems.
  • You are taught healthy coping skills and strategies to minimize substance abuse, strengthen your relationships, and cope with life's stressors, challenges, and upset.

Dual diagnosis programs

Finding the right program can help you to:

  • Think about the role that alcohol and/or drugs play in your life. This should be done confidentially, without judgement or any negative consequences. People feel free to discuss these issues when the discussion is confidential and not tied to legal consequences.
  • Learn more about alcohol and drugs , such as how they interact with mental illness and medication.
  • Become employed and find other services that may help the process of recovery.
  • Identify and develop your personal recovery goals . If you decide that your use of alcohol or drugs may be a problem, a counselor trained in dual diagnosis treatment can help you work on your specific recovery goals for both illnesses.
  • Experience counseling specifically designed for people with dual diagnosis . This can be done individually, in a group of peers, with your family, or a combination of all these.

Treatment programs for veterans with co-occurring disorders

Veterans deal with additional challenges when it comes to co-occurring disorders. The pressures of deployment or combat can exacerbate underlying mental disorders, and substance abuse is a common way of coping with the unpleasant feelings or memories associated with PTSD in military veterans .

Often, these problems take a while to show up after a vet returns home, and may be initially mistaken for readjustment. Untreated co-occurring disorders can lead to major problems at home and work and in your daily life, so it's important to seek help.

In addition to getting professional treatment, there are plenty of self-help steps you can take to address your substance abuse and mental health issues. Remember: Getting sober is only the beginning. As well as continuing mental health treatment, your sustained recovery depends on learning healthier coping strategies and making better decisions when dealing with life's challenges.

Tip 1: Manage stress and emotions

Learn how to manage stress. Drug and alcohol abuse often stems from misguided attempts to manage stress. Stress is an inevitable part of life, so it's important to have healthy coping skills so you can deal with stress without turning to alcohol or drugs. Stress management skills go a long way towards preventing relapse and keeping your symptoms at bay.

Cope with unpleasant feelings. Many people turn to alcohol or drugs to cover up painful memories and emotions such as loneliness, depression, or anxiety. You may feel like doing drugs is the only way to handle unpleasant feelings, but HelpGuide's free Emotional Intelligence Toolkit can teach you how to cope with difficult emotions without falling back on your addiction.

Know your triggers and have an action plan. When you're coping with a mental disorder as well as a substance abuse problem, it's especially important to know signs that your illness is flaring up. Common causes include stressful events, big life changes, or unhealthy sleeping or eating patterns. At these times, having a plan in place is essential to preventing a drink or drug relapse. Who will you talk to? What do you need to do to avoid slipping?

Tip 2: Connect with others

Make face-to-face connection with friends and family a priority. Positive emotional connection to those around you is the quickest way to calm your nervous system. Try to meet up regularly with people who care about you. If you don't have anyone you feel close to, it's never too late to meet new people and develop meaningful friendships .

Follow doctor's orders. Once you are sober and you feel better, you might think you no longer need medication or treatment. But arbitrarily stopping medication or treatment is a common reason for relapse in people with co-occurring disorders. Always talk with your doctor before making any changes to your medication or treatment routine.

Get therapy or stay involved in a support group. Your chances of staying sober improve if you are participating in a social support group like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous or if you are getting therapy.

Tip 3: Make healthy lifestyle changes

Exercise regularly. Exercise is a natural way to bust stress, relieve anxiety, and improve your mood and outlook. To achieve the maximum benefit, aim for at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise on most days.

Practice relaxation techniques. When practiced regularly, relaxation techniques such as mindfulness meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, and deep breathing can reduce symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression, and increase feelings of relaxation and emotional well-being.

Adopt healthy eating habits. Start the day right with breakfast, and continue with frequent small meals throughout the day. Going too long without eating leads to low blood sugar, which can make you feel more stressed or anxious. Getting enough healthy fats in your diet can help to boost your mood.

Get enough sleep. A lack of sleep can exacerbate stress, anxiety, and depression, so try to get 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep a night.

Tip 4: Find new meaning in life

To stay alcohol- or drug-free for the long term, you'll need to build a new, meaningful life where substance abuse no longer has a place.

Develop new activities and interests. Find new hobbies, volunteer activities , or work that gives you a sense of meaning and purpose. When you're doing things you find fulfilling, you'll feel better about yourself and substance use will hold less appeal.

Avoid the things that trigger your urge to use. If certain people, places, or activities trigger a craving for drugs or alcohol, try to avoid them. This may mean making major changes to your social life, such as finding new things to do with your old buddies—or even giving up those friends and making new connections.

As with other addictions, groups are very helpful, not only in maintaining sobriety, but also as a safe place to get support and discuss challenges. Sometimes treatment programs for co-occurring disorders provide groups that continue to meet on an aftercare basis. Your doctor or treatment provider may also be able to refer you to a group for people with co-occurring disorders.

While it's often best to join a group that addresses both substance abuse and your mental health disorder, twelve-step groups for substance abuse can also be helpful—plus they're more common, so you're likely to find one in your area. These free programs, facilitated by peers, use group support and a set of guided principles—the twelve steps —to obtain and maintain sobriety.

Just make sure your group is accepting of the idea of co-occurring disorders and psychiatric medication. Some people in these groups, although well meaning, may mistake taking psychiatric medication as another form of addiction. You want a place to feel safe, not pressured.

Helping someone with both a substance abuse and a mental health problem can be a roller coaster. Resistance to treatment is common and the road to recovery can be long.

The best way to help someone is to accept what you can and cannot do. You cannot force someone to remain sober, nor can you make someone take their medication or keep appointments. What you can do is make positive choices for yourself, encourage your loved one to get help, and offer your support while making sure you don't lose yourself in the process.

[Read: Helping Someone with a Drug Addiction]

Seek support. Dealing with a loved one's mental illness and substance abuse can be painful and isolating. Make sure you're getting the emotional support you need to cope. Talk to someone you trust about what you're going through. It can also help to get your own therapy or join a support group.

Set boundaries. Be realistic about the amount of care you're able to provide without feeling overwhelmed and resentful. Set limits on disruptive behaviors and stick to them. Letting the co-occurring disorders take over your life isn't healthy for you or your loved one.

Educate yourself. Learn all you can about your loved one's mental health problem, as well as substance abuse treatment and recovery . The more you understand what your loved one is going through, the better able you'll be to support recovery.

Be patient. Recovering from co-occurring disorders doesn't happen overnight. Recovery is an ongoing process and relapse is common. Ongoing support for both you and your loved one is crucial as you work toward recovery, but you can get through this difficult time together and regain control of your lives.

Helplines and support groups

Call the  NAMI HelpLine  at 1-800-950-6264 or the  SAMHSA helpline  at 1-800-662-4357.

Call the  SANEline  at 07984 967 708.

all the  Sane Helpline  at 1800 187 263.

Visit  Mood Disorders Society of Canada  for links to provincial helplines.

Call the  Vandrevala Foundation Helpline  at 1860 2662 345.

Support groups

SAMHSA Substance Abuse Treatment Facility Locator  provides a searchable database of private and public treatment facilities or you can call the helpline at 1-800-662-4357.

Dual Recovery Anonymous   offers 12-step meetings in various countries for people who are chemically dependent and also affected by a mental health disorder.  Other peer support groups, such as  Alcoholics Anonymous ,  Narcotics Anonymous ,  SMART Recovery , and  Women for Sobriety  can also be a good source of support as you go through recovery and most have worldwide chapters.

More Information

  • Co-Occurring: Mental Health and Substance Abuse - Advice and help for individuals with co-occurring disorders and their loved ones. (Mental Health America)
  • Comorbidity: Addiction and Other Mental Illnesses - The link between substance abuse and mental health. (National Institute on Drug Abuse)
  • Substance Use Disorders - The relationship between anxiety and substance use. (ADAA)
  • Mental Health Disorders and Teen Substance Use - Why it’s especially risky for kids with emotional or behavioral challenges to drink or use drugs. (Child Mind Institute)
  • One Breath, Twelve Steps - Buddhism-inspired mindful practices for overcoming addiction from a  HelpGuide affiliate . (Sounds True)
  • Substance-Related and Addictive Disorders. (2013). In Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders . American Psychiatric Association. Link
  • Anxiety Disorders. (2013). In Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders . American Psychiatric Association. Link
  • Bipolar and Related Disorders. (2013). In Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders . American Psychiatric Association. Link
  • Depressive Disorders. (2013). In Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders . American Psychiatric Association. Link
  • Grant, Bridget F., Frederick S. Stinson, Deborah A. Dawson, S. Patricia Chou, Mary C. Dufour, Wilson Compton, Roger P. Pickering, and Kenneth Kaplan. “Prevalence and Co-Occurrence of Substance Use Disorders and Independent Mood and Anxiety Disorders: Results from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions.” Archives of General Psychiatry 61, no. 8 (August 2004): 807–16. Link
  • Drake, Robert E. “Co-Occurring Alcohol Use Disorder and Schizophrenia” 26, no. 2 (2002): 4. Link
  • Lipari, Rachel N. “Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health,” 2018, 82. Link
  • Kelly, Thomas M., and Dennis C. Daley. “Integrated Treatment of Substance Use and Psychiatric Disorders.” Social Work in Public Health 28, no. 3–4 (2013): 388–406. Link
  • Baigent, Michael. “Managing Patients with Dual Diagnosis in Psychiatric Practice.” Current Opinion in Psychiatry 25, no. 3 (May 2012): 201–5. Link
  • Ross, Stephen, and Eric Peselow. “Co-Occurring Psychotic and Addictive Disorders: Neurobiology and Diagnosis.” Clinical Neuropharmacology 35, no. 5 (October 2012): 235–43. Link
  • Santucci, Karen. “Psychiatric Disease and Drug Abuse.” Current Opinion in Pediatrics 24, no. 2 (April 2012): 233–37. Link
  • NIDA. 2018, August 1. Comorbidity: Substance Use Disorders and Other Mental Illnesses. Retrieved from National Institute on Drug Abuse on July 15, 2021. Link

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10 Tips for Emotional Healing

What really helps us reduce our sadness, anxiety, and other emotional distress.

Posted September 16, 2013 | Reviewed by Matt Huston

  • What Is Anxiety?
  • Find a therapist to overcome anxiety
  • Most people feel happier when they love and let themselves be loved.
  • Identifying unhelpful thoughts is critical to getting control of one's own mind and reducing emotional distress.
  • Deciding that making meaning is more important than one's mood on any particular day can lead to emotional healing.

We experience emotional distress in all sorts of ways—as sadness, anxiety , addictions, unproductive obsessions, unwanted compulsions, repetitive self-sabotaging behaviors, physical ailments, boredom , and various angry, bleak, and agitated moods.

What helps relieve this distress? What helps a person to heal? The mental health system as currently constituted says that the following two things help the most: drugs and talk therapy . Setting those two aside, what else helps? Here are 10 tips for emotional healing:

1. Be yourself

You must be yourself. This means asking for what you want, setting boundaries , having your own beliefs and opinions, standing up for your values, wearing the clothes you want to wear, eating the food you want to eat, saying the things you want to say, and in a hundred other ways being you and not somebody small or false.

2. Invent yourself

You come with attributes, capacities and proclivities and you are molded in a certain environment. But at some point you must say, “Okay, this is what is original to me and this is how I have been formed but now who do I want to be ?” You reduce your emotional distress by deciding to become a person who will experience less emotional distress: a calmer person, a less critical person, a less egoistic person, a more productive person, a less self-abusive person, and so on.

3. Love and be loved

Part of our nature requires solitude, alone time, and a substantial rugged individualism. But this isn’t the whole story of our nature. We feel happier, warmer and better, live longer, and experience life as more meaningful if we love and let ourselves be loved. We must be individuals (see tips 1 and 2) but we must also relate. To do both, to both be ourselves and relate, requires that we acknowledge the reality of others, include others in our plans, not only speak but listen, and makes ourselves fit by eliminating our more egregious faults and by growing up.

4. Get a grip on your mind

Nothing causes more emotional distress than the thoughts we think. We must do a better job than we usually do of identifying the thoughts that don’t serve us, disputing them and demanding that they go away, and substituting more useful thoughts. Thinking thoughts that do not serve you is the equivalent of serving yourself up emotional distress. Only you can get a grip on your own mind; if you won’t do that work, you will live in distress.

5. Forget the past

We are not so completely in control of our being that we can prevent past sore points from returning. They have a way of pestering us as anxious sweats, nightmares, sudden sadness, and waves of anger or defeat. But we can nevertheless try to exorcise the past by not playing along with our human tendency to wallow there. We must tell ourselves to move on and mean it. If you have a secret attachment to misery, you will feel miserable. As best you can, imperfectly but with real energy, let go of the past and forget the past.

6. Flip the anxiety switch off

Rampant anxiety ruins our equilibrium, colors our mood, and makes all the already hard tasks of living that much harder. There are many anxiety management strategies you might want to try—breathing techniques, cognitive techniques, relaxation techniques, and so on—but what will make all the difference is if you can locate that “inner switch” that controls your anxious nature and, deciding that you prefer to live more calmly, flip it to the off position. With one gesture you announce that you will no longer over-dramatize, that you will no longer catastrophize , that you will no longer live a fearful life or create unnecessary anxiety for yourself.

7. Make meaning

Meaning is nothing more arcane than a certain sort of subjective psychological experience. We can have much more meaning in our life if we stop looking for it, as if it were lost or as if someone else knew more about it than we did, and realize that it is in our power to influence meaning and even make it. By making daily meaning investments and by seizing daily meaning opportunities we hold meaning crises at bay and experience life as meaningful. Meaning problems produce severe emotional distress and learning the art of value-based meaning-making dramatically reduces that distress.

8. Let meaning trump mood

You can decide that the meaning you make is more important to you than the mood you find yourself in. Rather than saying “I’m blue today” you instead say, “I have my business to build” or “I have my novel to write.” You start each day by announcing to yourself exactly how you intend to make meaning on that day, how you intend to deal with routine chores and tasks, how you intend to relax—how, in short, you mean to spend your day—and you consider all of that, the rich and the mundane alike, as the project of your life, one that you are living with grace and in good spirits. You reduce your emotional distress by checking in more on your intentions and less on your mood.

how to deal with mental health recovery

9. Upgrade your personality

You may not be the person you would like to be. You may be angrier than you would like to be, more impulsive, more scattered, more self-sabotaging, more undisciplined, more frightened. If so, you require a personality upgrade, which of course only you can supply. You choose a feature of your personality you would like to upgrade and then you ask yourself, what thoughts align with this intention and what actions align with this intention? Then you think the appropriate thoughts and take the necessary action. In this way, you become the person capable of reducing your emotional distress.

10. Deal with circumstances

Would you experience more distress sunning yourself at the beach or facing a long jail sentence? Circumstances matter. Our economic circumstances matter; our relationships matter; our work conditions matter; our health matters; whether our nation is at peace or occupied by invaders matters. Many circumstances are completely out of our control and many are within our control. We can change jobs or careers, we can divorce , we can reduce our calorie intake, we can stand up or keep quiet, we can do exactly as much as we can do to improve our circumstances. As a result of those improvements, we feel emotionally better. Emotional healing requires that you take real action in the real world.

Who knows if we are in the throes of a “new depression epidemic” or a “new anxiety epidemic” or whether keen emotional distress has been a significant feature of human existence from the beginning? What is different now is that the paradigm of self-help is completely available to anyone who would like to reduce his or her emotional distress. You can understand yourself; you can form intentions and carry them out; you can learn from experience; you can grow and heal. Naturally, none of this is true if you are unwilling to do the work required. But if you are, you have an excellent chance of reducing your emotional distress and experiencing genuine emotional health.

Eric R. Maisel Ph.D.

Eric Maisel, Ph.D. , is the author of more than 50 books, among them Redesign Your Mind.

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Recovery and mental health

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Recovery from mental health is the process of getting well, knowing your strengths and weaknesses, and creating a satisfying life for yourself. Most people who are diagnosed with a mental illness recover with the right support.

A range of services can help you recover and what’s needed will be different for every person. What is common to everyone with mental health issues is the sooner you seek help and treatment, the better your possibilities for recovery.

What is mental health recovery?

Recovery from mental health is not the same as a cure. Recovery means being able to create and live a meaningful life and contribute to your community, with or without mental health issues. This is sometimes called ‘personal recovery’.

Recovery is about all of your life, not just treatment and management of your symptoms (which is ‘clinical recovery’). It involves:

  • finding hope, and developing self-esteem and resilience
  • having a positive sense of self
  • having a sense of purpose and meaning in your life
  • building healthy relationships
  • gaining independence
  • understanding your skills and limitations

What is the ‘recovery approach’ to mental health?

The ‘recovery approach’ to mental illness is about helping you take control of your own life. You decide what is important for you and what you would like your life to look like, not just in terms of mental illness symptoms, but holistically.

When you take the recovery approach, you work as a team with your doctor and other health professionals to work out how to achieve your goals and how to manage your mental health. You are at the centre of your care, and it will be personal and unique to you.

Promoting a recovery approach to mental healthcare is part of Australia’s national mental health strategy. It sets out 6 key principles that can help you ensure that mental health services are helping your recovery:

  • Uniqueness of the individual: Do you feel supported to build on your unique strengths to live a satisfying life?
  • Real choices: Are you given enough information to make informed choices about care and treatment? Are you being supported to take as much responsibility as you can?
  • Attitudes and rights: Are your legal and human rights advised, respected and promoted? Are you supported to develop activities that are meaningful to you?
  • Dignity and respect: Do you feel welcome at the service? Are your culture and beliefs respected?
  • Partnership and communication: Does the service proactively involve you in all aspects of care planning and treatment with a recovery focus?
  • Evaluating recovery: Are you involved in reviewing and assessing your recovery goals?

What is a mental health recovery plan?

A mental health recovery plan (also called a wellness recovery action plan (WRAP)) is designed to help you:

  • work out what sort of life you want to lead
  • work out what you can do to get there
  • find your strengths and interests
  • work out who are your supporters
  • keep track of changes in your mental health
  • identify and manage things that might make your mental state worse (triggers)
  • have a crisis plan in case you relapse and things get worse
  • have a plan for when the crisis is over

For example, you might decide you want to live on your own, find a part-time job or reconnect with your family. Together with your mental health team, you can work out how best to get what you want, and what help you need along the way.

What else can I do to help my recovery?

Supporting your physical health with healthy eating , regular physical activity and enough restful sleep will always have positive effects on your mental wellbeing.

Taking medication as directed, and reporting any side effects or problems to your doctor or specialist is another aspect of recovery. Making sure you attend regular appointments is also important.

Avoid alcohol and drug use — they make mental health conditions worse.

Learning skills like mindfulness can help with stress management.

how to deal with mental health recovery

Daily actions to improve your mental health

Research from MindSpot has shown that regularly performing five simple actions can improve your mental health. Learn more here .

How do I get help with my recovery?

Many mental health services can help with your recovery. The first step is to see your doctor, who can give you advice and refer you to local services. You can also search for services. SANE Australia has a guide to services that can help with recovery from mental illness.

If you’ve been diagnosed with a mental illness, your doctor can help you get affordable access to other health professionals, such as psychologists — see our mental health care plan page.

Where to get help

Support is also available from:

  • Head to Health gives advice and will connect you to local mental health services. Call 1800 595 212. Check the operating times .
  • SANE Australia
  • — practical tools and support for young people. The Toolbox for mobile phone apps, like WorryTime .
  • Beyond Blue for help with depression and anxiety

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Stages of mental health recovery

Sean Jackson

Recovery from mental illness takes patience, time, and support. Though the recovery process is a personal and unique experience, there are common stages individuals may goes through in their mental health recovery.

Stages of mental health recovery

What is mental health recovery?

Mental health recovery means different things to different people. Depending on a person’s unique story and struggle, the process can be longer or shorter. Mental health struggles caused by situational distress, such as loss of a loved one may be a shorter process than healing from childhood abuse that continued for years. However, it is important to remember there is no set timeline for people recovering from mental illness. [1]

Recovery can also be clinical or personal. You might think of a clinical recovery as living symptom-free. A personal recovery might be your journey of self-acceptance or self-actualization. Ultimately, though, recovery generally represents living a more mentally healthy life. [2]

What are the 5 stages of mental health recovery?

As mentioned earlier, everyone’s recovery experience is different. However, some recovery systems follow a five-stage plan that helps break down the different elements of the recovery process. Each of these general stages is outlined below.

Acceptance/Starting Treatment

The first stage of recovery in mental health is simply recognizing and accepting that there is a problem. [3]  The point at which this realization is made differs from one person to the next. You might understand that something isn’t right and seek treatment before your mental health condition worsens.

However, many people may not realize there is an issue until their mental health has significantly deteriorated. It might be hard to ask for help or even believe others when they say you need help. Therefore, this stage of mental health recovery can be challenging for some people.

But, once you realize you need help and are willing to seek help, starting treatment completes the first stage. Therapy comes in many different forms - individual counseling, couples or family counseling, group counseling, and support groups are just a few options.


The next of the 5 stages of mental health recovery is education/insight. The first component of this is to learn about what’s going on with your mental health. A mental health professional can help you do this by assessing you, diagnosing you, and discussing their findings with you.

It’s important to remember that having a mental health diagnosis isn’t a label meant to shame you. Instead, it’s a tool for your therapist (and you) to gain insight into the situation. Many mental health conditions can be confusing; a diagnosis can help you sift through that confusion and gain insights into why you feel the way you feel and behave the way you behave. With better understanding comes an increased ability to make positive changes.


Taking action and making positive changes occurs next in the process of recovery from mental health issues. Now that you have some insights into your situation, you can make an action plan to further your recovery.

For example, let’s assume you’ve been diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder  and that you learned about your triggers for consuming alcohol in therapy. The next step is to make changes to your life that minimize the likelihood that you drink.

So, if one of your triggers is being around friends who drink, your action plan might involve avoiding social situations when others are drinking. If another one of your triggers to drink is anger, you might utilize coping strategies learned in therapy to deal with your anger in a healthy way instead of turning to alcohol to cope.

Finding New Meaning/Building a New Life

Recovery in mental health requires finding new meaning in life and building toward a future that focuses on that meaning. For example, you may have a renewed interest in focusing on your family and friends. You might also find a new job or a new opportunity to volunteer.

Whatever the case, filling your life with meaningful activities will help you continue your recovery. It also enables you to build resilience - relying more on yourself once equipped to do so builds independence, feelings of self-worth, and the confidence to continue moving forward. [4]

Continuing Recovery/Treatment

Recovery is a process  and not necessarily something that has an endpoint. This does not mean, however, that you have to be in treatment for the rest of your life. Treatment is just one component of a more extensive process.

As outlined in the previous steps, your recovery involves accepting your situation, learning about your condition, and taking action to build a new and better life. These steps put you in a position to continue your recovery even after treatment has ended by relying on the knowledge and skills you’ve gained in therapy.  

For example, your treatment might involve cognitive behavioral therapy  (CBT), which focuses on identifying and changing negative thought patterns for improved behavioral outcomes. One of the techniques often used to do this is role-playing.

Let’s say you have a social anxiety disorder . Your therapist might use role-playing to help you practice social interactions in a safe and supportive environment. These role-playing sessions can help you gain confidence, lessen your anxiety, and give you tangible tools to rely on as you continue your recovery after treatment.

How long does mental health recovery take?

There is no way to quantify how long mental health recovery takes because it differs for everyone. On the one hand, a minor mental health issue might be resolved in a matter of weeks or months. On the other hand, serious psychiatric disorders present lifelong difficulties and might require years of treatment.

As noted earlier, recovery is a process with no specific end date. Recovery from mental health issues requires a solid commitment to continue learning, growing, and becoming more mentally healthy.

Where to find help with mental health recovery

Many reliable, helpful resources are available to you on your mental health recovery journey. Websites like this one offer insights and easy access to information that can help get your recovery underway. Local mental health clinics, community mental health centers, and clinicians in private practice are good resources for the psychological health services you need as well.

Other resources you can consult include the following:

  • National Institute of Mental Health
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Suicide and Crisis Line
  • Veterans Crisis Line
  • Mental Health Foundation. (2021, September 15). Recovery. Retrieved July 23, 2023, from
  • Rethink Mental Illness. (n.d.). Recovery and mental illness. Retrieved July 23, 2023, from
  • Metcalf, M. (2019, November 1). My path to accepting mental illness. Retrieved July 23, 2023, from
  • Jacob, K.S. (2015, April-June). Recovery model of mental illness: a complementary approach to psychiatric care. Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine, 37(2):117-9. Retrieved July 23, 2023, from

Medical Content

Our Medical Affairs Team is a dedicated group of medical professionals with diverse and extensive clinical experience who actively contribute to the development of our content, products, and services. They meticulously evaluate and review all medical content before publication to ensure it is medically accurate and aligned with current discussions and research developments in mental health. For more information, visit our Editorial Policy .

About is a patient-first health technology company driven by its mission to make optimal mental health attainable for everyone. With a focus on expanding care access, empowering choice, and enhancing care quality, the company delivers innovative solutions that support individuals throughout their mental health journey.

Sean Jackson

Sean Jackson is our expert medical writer with over 25 years of expertise. His diverse knowledge and writing skills empower individuals on their mental health journey through compelling narratives.

Published: Sep 11th 2023 , Last edited: Sep 22nd 2023

Morgan Blair

Medical Reviewer

Morgan Blair is our expert medical reviewer, a licensed therapist, and writer with a master's in clinical mental health counseling. Her work combines mental health advocacy and creative expression to provide valuable support for those on their mental health journey.

Content reviewed by a medical professional. Last reviewed: Sep 11th 2023

Morgan Blair

Last reviewed: Sep 11th 2023

Morgan Blair

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Mental health: overcoming the stigma of mental illness.

False beliefs about mental illness can cause significant problems. Learn what you can do about stigma.

Stigma is when someone views you in a negative way because you have a distinguishing characteristic or personal trait that's thought to be, or actually is, a disadvantage (a negative stereotype). Unfortunately, negative attitudes and beliefs toward people who have a mental health condition are common.

Stigma can lead to discrimination. Discrimination may be obvious and direct, such as someone making a negative remark about your mental illness or your treatment. Or it may be unintentional or subtle, such as someone avoiding you because the person assumes you could be unstable, violent or dangerous due to your mental illness. You may even judge yourself.

Some of the harmful effects of stigma can include:

  • Reluctance to seek help or treatment
  • Lack of understanding by family, friends, co-workers or others
  • Fewer opportunities for work, school or social activities or trouble finding housing
  • Bullying, physical violence or harassment
  • Health insurance that doesn't adequately cover your mental illness treatment
  • The belief that you'll never succeed at certain challenges or that you can't improve your situation

Steps to cope with stigma

Here are some ways you can deal with stigma:

  • Get treatment. You may be reluctant to admit you need treatment. Don't let the fear of being labeled with a mental illness prevent you from seeking help. Treatment can provide relief by identifying what's wrong and reducing symptoms that interfere with your work and personal life.
  • Don't let stigma create self-doubt and shame. Stigma doesn't just come from others. You may mistakenly believe that your condition is a sign of personal weakness or that you should be able to control it without help. Seeking counseling, educating yourself about your condition and connecting with others who have mental illness can help you gain self-esteem and overcome destructive self-judgment.
  • Don't isolate yourself. If you have a mental illness, you may be reluctant to tell anyone about it. Your family, friends, clergy or members of your community can offer you support if they know about your mental illness. Reach out to people you trust for the compassion, support and understanding you need.
  • Don't equate yourself with your illness. You are not an illness. So instead of saying "I'm bipolar," say "I have bipolar disorder." Instead of calling yourself "a schizophrenic," say "I have schizophrenia."
  • Join a support group. Some local and national groups, such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), offer local programs and internet resources that help reduce stigma by educating people who have mental illness, their families and the general public. Some state and federal agencies and programs, such as those that focus on vocational rehabilitation and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), offer support for people with mental illness.
  • Get help at school. If you or your child has a mental illness that affects learning, find out what plans and programs might help. Discrimination against students because of a mental illness is against the law, and educators at primary, secondary and college levels are required to accommodate students as best they can. Talk to teachers, professors or administrators about the best approach and resources. If a teacher doesn't know about a student's disability, it can lead to discrimination, barriers to learning and poor grades.
  • Speak out against stigma. Consider expressing your opinions at events, in letters to the editor or on the internet. It can help instill courage in others facing similar challenges and educate the public about mental illness.

Others' judgments almost always stem from a lack of understanding rather than information based on facts. Learning to accept your condition and recognize what you need to do to treat it, seeking support, and helping educate others can make a big difference.

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  • StigmaFree me. National Alliance on Mental Illness. Accessed April 25, 2017.
  • What is stigma? Why is it a problem? National Alliance on Mental Illness. Accessed April 25, 2017.
  • Stigma and mental illness. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed April 25, 2017.
  • Sickel AE, et al. Mental health stigma: Impact on mental health treatment attitudes and physical health. Journal of Health Psychology. Accessed April 25, 2017.
  • Americans with Disabilities Act and mental illness. Accessed April 25, 2017.
  • Picco L, et al. Internalized stigma among psychiatric outpatients: Associations with quality of life, functioning, hope and self-esteem. Psychiatric Research. 2016;246:500.
  • The civil rights of students with hidden disabilities under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. U.S. Department of Education. Accessed May 2, 2017.
  • Wong EC, et al. Effects of stigma and discrimination reduction trainings conducted under the California Mental Health Services Authority. Rand Health Quarterly. 2016;5:9.

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Managing Stress

Know the warning signs.

Learn the common signs of mental illness in adults and adolescents.

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Learn more about common mental health conditions that affect millions.

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Everyone experiences stress. Sometimes it can help you focus and get the task at hand done. But when stress is frequent and intense, it can strain your body and make it impossible to function. Finding effective ways to deal is crucial to living well.

How Stress Affects You

Stress affects your entire body, mentally as well as physically. Some common signs include:

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Changes in appetite
  • Frequent mood swings
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling overwhelmed

When experiencing long-term stress, your brain is exposed to increased levels of a hormone called cortisol. This exposure weakens your immune system, making it easier for you to get sick.

Stress can contribute to worsening symptoms of your mental illness. For example, in schizophrenia, it can encourage hallucinations and delusions, while in bipolar disorder, it can trigger episodes of both mania and depression. Knowing what situations cause it is the first step in coping with this very common experience.

When You Are Most Vulnerable to Stress

People are most susceptible to stress when they are:

  • Not getting enough sleep
  • Not having a network of support
  • Experiencing a major life change such as moving, the death of a loved one, starting a new job, having a child or getting married
  • Experiencing poor physical health
  • Not eating well

Everyone has his own threshold. Certain things that may upset you out might not even make one of your friends raise an eyebrow. Some people are affected when they experience large crowds and noisy environments, while others react to silence and free time.

Ways to Reduce Stress

Developing a personalized approach to reducing stress can help you manage your mental health condition and improve your quality of life. Once you've learned what your triggers are, experiment with coping strategies. Some common ones include:

  • Accept your needs. Recognize what your triggers are. What situations make you feel physically and mentally agitated? Once you know this, you can avoid them when it's reasonable to, and to cope when you can't.
  • Manage your time. Prioritizing your activities can help you use your time well. Making a day-to-day schedule helps ensure you don't feel overwhelmed by everyday tasks and deadlines.
  • Practice relaxation.  Deep breathing, meditation and progressive muscle relaxation are good ways to calm yourself. Taking a break to refocus can have benefits beyond the immediate moment.
  • Exercise daily. Schedule time to walk outside, bike or join a dance class. Whatever you do, make sure it's fun. Daily exercise naturally produces stress-relieving hormones in your body and improves your overall physical health.
  • Set aside time for yourself. Schedule something that makes you feel good. It might be reading a book, go to the movies, get a massage or take your dog for a walk.
  • Eat well. Eating unprocessed foods, like whole grains, vegetables, and fresh fruit is the foundation for a healthy body and mind. Eating well can also help stabilize your mood.
  • Get enough sleep. Symptoms of some mental health conditions, like mania in bipolar disorder, can be triggered by getting too little sleep.
  • Avoid alcohol and drugs. They don't actually reduce stress: in fact, they often worsen it. If you're struggling with substance abuse, educate yourself and get help.
  • Talk to someone. Whether to friends, family, a counselor or a support group, airing out and talking can help. Consider attending a NAMI Connection Recovery Support Group.

Getting Help

If the steps you've taken aren't working, it may be time to share with your mental health professional. He or she can help you pinpoint specific events that trigger you and help you create an action plan to change them.

how to deal with mental health recovery

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Today, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), released the results of the 2022 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) . The report shows how people living in the United States reported about their experience with mental health, substance use, and treatment related behaviors in 2022. The report is accompanied by a high-level brief that includes infographics.

“The National Survey on Drug Use and Health provides an annual snapshot of behavioral health nationwide,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. “This data informs knowledge, policy and action, and drives our shared commitment across government, healthcare, industry and community to offer resources and services to those in need.”

The NSDUH report provides nationally representative data on the self-reported use of tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drugs; substance use disorders; mental health conditions; suicidal thoughts and behaviors; and substance use and mental health treatment among the civilian, noninstitutionalized population aged 12 or older in the United States. The NSDUH estimates allow researchers, clinicians, policymakers, and the general public to better understand and improve the nation’s behavioral health. Addressing the nation’s mental health crisis and drug overdose epidemic is a top priority of the Biden-Harris Administration and a core pillar of the Administration’s Unity Agenda.

“To tackle the behavioral health crisis in this nation, we need to fully understand the issues surrounding mental health and substance use, and the impact they have on people and communities,” said Deputy Secretary Andrea Palm. “The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to meeting people where they are with information, resources, and support. The 2022 National Survey on Drug Use and Health allows us to follow an evidence-based path forward as we provide support for those struggling with substance use and work to build healthier futures.”

“The data released today is crucial for informing our policies, protocols and understanding of our nation’s health,” said HHS Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use Miriam E. Delphin-Rittmon, Ph.D., the leader of SAMHSA. “This important work better situates policy makers, researchers, practitioners and the general public to understand the collective behavioral health needs across the country and anticipate the needs of future generations.”

The 2022 NSDUH report includes the following key findings:

  • Among people aged 12 or older in 2022, 59.8% (or 168.7 million people) used tobacco products, vaped nicotine, used alcohol, or used an illicit drug in the past month (also defined as “current use”), including 48.7% (or 137.4 million people) who drank alcohol, 18.1% (or 50.9 million people) who used tobacco products, 8.3% (or 23.5 million people) who vaped nicotine, and 16.5% (or 46.6 million people) who used an illicit drug.
  • In 2022, 70.3 million people aged 12 or older (or 24.9%) used illicit drugs in the past year. Marijuana was the most used illicit drug, with 22.0% of people aged 12 or older (or 61.9 million people) using it in the past year.
  • In 2022, 48.7 million people aged 12 or older (or 17.3%) had a substance use disorder (SUD) in the past year, including 29.5 million who had an alcohol use disorder (AUD), 27.2 million who had a drug use disorder (DUD), and 8.0 million people who had both an AUD and a DUD.
  • In 2022, almost 1 in 4 adults aged 18 or older had any mental illness (AMI) in the past year (59.3 million or 23.1%).
  • Among adolescents aged 12 to 17 in 2022, 19.5% (or 4.8 million people) had a past year major depressive episode (MDE).
  • 1 in 20 adults aged 18 or older had serious thoughts of suicide in the past year (13.2 million or 5.2%), 1.5% (or 3.8 million people) made a suicide plan, and 0.6% (or 1.6 million people) attempted suicide in the past year.
  • Over 1 in 8 adolescents aged 12 to 17 had serious thoughts of suicide in the past year (13.4% or 3.4 million adolescents), 1 in 15 made any suicide plans (6.5% or 1.7 million adolescents), and nearly 1 in 25 (3.7% or 953,000 adolescents) attempted suicide in the past year.

About the National Survey on Drug Use and Health

Conducted each year by the federal government since 1971, the NSDUH is a primary source of statistical information on self-reported substance use and mental health of the U.S. civilian, noninstitutionalized population 12 or older. The NSDUH measures include:

  • Use of illegal drugs, prescription drugs, alcohol, and tobacco,
  • Substance use disorder and substance use treatment,
  • Major depressive episodes, suicidal thoughts and behaviors, and other symptoms of mental illness, mental health care, and
  • Recovery from substance use and mental health disorders.

If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Call or text 988 or chat at . To learn how to get support for mental health, drug or alcohol issues, visit . If you are ready to locate a treatment facility or provider, you can go directly to or call 800-662-HELP (4357) .

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Reporters with questions should send inquiries to [email protected] .

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is the agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that leads public health efforts to advance the behavioral health of the nation. SAMHSA’s mission is to lead public health and service delivery efforts that promote mental health, prevent substance misuse, and provide treatments and supports to foster recovery while ensuring equitable access and better outcomes.

Last Updated

Last Updated: 11/13/2023

South Bend-Elkhart WNDU-TV

South Bend-Elkhart WNDU-TV

Recovery center in Mishawaka helping patients with addiction, mental health issues

Posted: November 10, 2023 | Last updated: November 11, 2023

MISHAWAKA, Ind. (WNDU) - It’s been just over two weeks since 40-year-old Robert Card stormed into a bowling alley and a restaurant in Maine and began shooting his assault-style weapon.

What does this have to do with us here in Michiana? Well, we had a big discussion about mental health during our morning editorial meeting here at The WNDU Studios.

We talked about how local police in Maine knew Robert Card was scaring those around him earlier this fall. We also talked about how difficult it is to get help when you’re in a dark place, often resulting in self-medication and addiction problems.

Here in Michiana, we are asking what resources are available to people dealing with mental illness and addiction.

“I learned early on that the way that you deal with everything is to use or drink,” said Zachary Stults at the Indiana Center for Recovery.

Stults has been clean for four years. But before that, he was saved 32 times with emergency Narcan treatments.

Now, Stults is a jack of all trades resource at the Indiana Center for Recovery. Having been through it, he knows how to help patients in the throes of addiction.

“Having that person with firsthand experience and knowledge of what you’re going through and being able to show them what you did and how you did it to get through. I think it’s essential,” he said.

At the Indiana Center for Recovery’s state-of-the-art facility in Mishawaka, many staffers have dealt with addiction and co-dependence themselves.

Dawn Johnson is a mental health nurse practitioner at the center. Her late husband was a military veteran, a veterinarian, and an addict. When he was cut off from opiates, he began treating himself with animal meds.

“And he wound up in 2013, he died from complications of his addiction, and I went back to school to try and still save him I suppose,” Johnson said.

Working here, though, Johnson can help save others.

Patients reside here as they are treated for addictions and mental health issues. That inpatient component is key, and Johnson sometimes finds insurance companies are unwilling to pay — even when a patient is a clear danger to themselves.

“I even had one insurance company tell me, after I told them this kid had five plans to kill himself; one was suicide by cop, one was jumping in front of a train, one was going and starting a bar fight,” she explained. “The psychiatrist on the other end for the insurance company actually said to me, ‘Oh, so he’s not planning to take his life by his own hands?’”

The insurance company never got off their wallet. But the Indiana Center for Recovery gave the young man what it calls a “scholarship.” In other words, the center footed the bill for his inpatient care.

Johnson acknowledges that there are a lot of obstacles to getting help, but she encourages anyone needing help to reach out to family, or their church, a trusted friend, or counselor to get help navigating mental health resources.

The Indiana Center for Recovery is located at 215 W. 4th Street in Mishawaka. For more information, head to the center’s website.

At the Indiana Center for Recovery’s state-of-the-art facility in Mishawaka, many staffers have dealt with addiction and co-dependence themselves.

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How to Recover from Mental Illness

Last Updated: March 16, 2022 Fact Checked

This article was co-authored by Trudi Griffin, LPC, MS . Trudi Griffin is a Licensed Professional Counselor in Wisconsin specializing in Addictions and Mental Health. She provides therapy to people who struggle with addictions, mental health, and trauma in community health settings and private practice. She received her MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Marquette University in 2011. There are 16 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 48,695 times.

Recovering from a mental illness is a difficult process but it is, in many cases, feasible. If you have not already sought treatment, it's important to do so right away. The sooner you get help, the sooner you can begin recovering.

Getting Help

Step 1 Make an appointment with your doctor.

  • Your doctor may not be able to officially diagnose you. She may want to send you to a specialist who can do a more thorough examination (interview, questionnaires).

Step 2 Get any needed medication.

  • When starting new a medication, check in with your doctor regularly to discuss your progress and any side effects.
  • It may take a long time and several different tries at various medications to find one that works best for you.

Step 3 Consider psychotherapy.

  • Set up intake appointments with several different therapists. Choose the one who works best with you.

Finding Support

Step 1 Reach out to others.

  • If you are having thoughts of suicide or self-harm , tell your support person. She can help you figure out what to do next or help calm you down.

Step 3 Spend time with your loved ones.

  • By reaching out to others in similar situations, you can exchange stories and tips.

Step 1 Prepare yourself.

  • When you have a bad day (or days, or week, or weeks), recognize that it's temporary. You're still in recovery, after all!

Step 3 Meet your physical needs.

  • A five-minute walk around the block is better than no walking at all. Take baby steps as needed. Even small things, such as standing at work instead of sitting, can help you be more active.
  • Eat three meals per day, even if you don't feel hungry. Mental illness can disrupt appetite. No matter what your weight is or what your stomach says, you need to eat.

Step 4 Work on basic grooming.

  • Consider throwing on your favorite shirt, a comfy pair of pants, or a beloved accessory to make you smile.
  • Try giving yourself a spa day on the weekends.
  • If you are too tired to prepare food, clean, etc. consider asking loved ones to help you.

Step 5 Cut stressful tasks and people from your life.

  • Guided imagery
  • EMDR eye movements
  • Engaging the senses
  • Mindfulness
  • Write a Mental Health Treatment Plan
  • Deep breathing

Step 9 Find ways to express yourself.

  • Artistic expression may be a great way to connect with others who have lived through hardship, inspire happiness in people, or find hope for yourself.

Step 10 Learn how to talk about your feelings.

Expert Q&A

  • Be careful who you tell. People have different levels of comfort regarding mental illness. Thanks Helpful 5 Not Helpful 0
  • Be patient with yourself as recovering from a mental illness can be confusing, isolating, and difficult. Most people can't even admit they have a problem. So, be proud of yourself for being pro-active. Thanks Helpful 4 Not Helpful 0
  • Start where you can and find a way to fund your treatment. Shopping around for affordable mental health options can save you thousands in medical bills. Thanks Helpful 3 Not Helpful 0

how to deal with mental health recovery

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About This Article

Trudi Griffin, LPC, MS

Medical Disclaimer

The content of this article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, examination, diagnosis, or treatment. You should always contact your doctor or other qualified healthcare professional before starting, changing, or stopping any kind of health treatment.


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