Living with a Mental Illness
Information & tips for people living with a mental illness
If you are living with a mental illness, remember you’re not alone, as mental disorders are among the leading causes of ill health and disability worldwide.1 Try not to lose sight of the fact that mental illnesses are biologically based, like all other illnesses. By working with a mental health professional and developing and following a treatment plan, it’s possible to reduce symptoms and ultimately feel better. Mental illnesses affect everyone differently, but by taking steps to understand the diagnosis, seeking the help and advice of a treatment team, speaking with others, and building a support system, there is reason to believe getting better is achievable.2
Understanding your diagnosis
Many people don’t seek treatment or remain unaware that their symptoms could be connected to a mental health condition. There may be mixed feelings when people receive a diagnosis. People may feel a sense of relief for finally understanding what’s been going on, along with a sense of uncertainty about what it means moving forward. Getting a diagnosis is an important first step toward receiving effective treatment and improving your quality of life.
- Receiving a diagnosis is an important tool for both you and your doctor. A diagnosis allows doctors and therapists to more accurately advise on treatment options and future health risks.
- When meeting with your doctor, take notes so you can retain more information about the significance of your symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment plan.3
- Continue communicating with your doctor to evaluate your progress and confirm your diagnosis. Consider whether your treatment is helping your condition or if you should think about other treatment options.
What to do in a crisis
If you are considering harming yourself and/or have developed a plan to do so, go to a hospital emergency room or call 911 immediately.
If you’re hesitating, ask a friend or family member to stay with you and/or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HELLO to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741. When you can, get in touch with your mental health professional to get help. If you are living with a mental illness, consider the following and plan ahead:4
- In a crisis, where should you go for treatment? How can you get there, and how can you stay calm in the meantime?
- Provide those close to you with the numbers of your mental health professionals in the case of an emergency.
Speaking with others
When living with a mental illness, it may be scary to reach out to others about it, but it is helpful to open up to others. Talking to someone can reduce your stress levels and improve your mood. Building a strong support system is important – remember, you don’t need to go through this alone.
When thinking about sharing your story with others, consider the following:
- Think about what you want to share and how you will share it. Do you want to share specific stories? Do you have specific suggestions for how your loved ones could help?
- Consider making a list of people you want to tell. If you’re unsure, think about the person you are most comfortable being around or talking to.
- Consider joining a mental health support group.5
Ways to reduce stress & anxiety
Create a schedule:
- Create a schedule that works for you and your needs. Prioritize your complicated tasks early in the day to avoid feeling as though the stress of each item is hanging over your head. Stick to your optimal schedule and, over time, check in with yourself to see if your stress has reduced.
Relax and breathe:
- Take a few minutes out of your day to calm yourself with deep breathing, meditation, or muscle relaxation. Being able to focus purposefully on a single activity has long-term benefits beyond the immediate moment.6
Disconnect and re-charge:
- It’s important to take time out to replenish and return to your pre-stress level of functioning. This exercise requires that you “switch off” from your work by having periods of time to neither engage in work-related activities nor actively think about it. Disconnect in a way that fits your needs and preferences. Taking a lunch break and allowing yourself to unwind is a good place to start. If taking a day off is necessary, don’t feel guilty for putting your mental health first.7
- Your body is the foundation to your mind. Taking 15 minutes to walk around the block, doing a quick workout session during your lunch break, or stretching at your desk can all help to clear your mind.
- It’s common to feel pressured to make yourself available for your job 24 hours a day. Establishing work-life boundaries for yourself can reduce the potential for work-life conflict. Some rules to set for yourself could include not checking your email after a certain time in the evening or leaving your laptop at work over the weekend.8
- Speaking with your friends and family about work can be beneficial. Some people can also get support through work. Many employers offer employee assistance programs (EAP) that include online information, counseling, and referrals to mental health professionals, if needed.9
For more suggestions and steps to help you cope with your diagnosis visit National Alliance on Mental Illness, National Institute of Mental Health, Mental Health America, One Mind or American Psychological Association.
For general information on mental health and to locate treatment services in your area, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Treatment Referral Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
If you or a loved one is having a mental health crisis, know that there is help. Go to the nearest hospital, emergency room, call 1-800-273-TALK or text HELLO to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 to reach someone live. You can also call 911 for immediate assistance. If you are living outside of the U.S., see a full list of country-specific suicide hotlines here.
1"Mental Disorders Affect One in Four People.” World Health Report. World Health Organization, 4 Oct. 2001. Web Dec. 2017. http://www.who.int/whr/2001/media_centre/press_release/en/. 2“For People With Mental Health Problems.” MentalHealth.gov, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 26 Sept. 2017. Web Jan. 2018. https://www.mentalhealth.gov/talk/people-mental-health-problems. 3“For People With Mental Health Problems.” MentalHealth.gov, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 26 Sept. 2017. Web Jan 2018 https://www.mentalhealth.gov/talk/people-mental-health-problems. 4“For People With Mental Health Problems.” MentalHealth.gov, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 26 Sept. 2017. Web Jan. 2018. ttps://www.mentalhealth.gov/talk/people-mental-health-problems. 5“For People With Mental Health Problems.” MentalHealth.gov, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 26 Sept. 2017. Web Jan. 2018. https://www.mentalhealth.gov/talk/people-mental-health-problems. 6“Coping With Stress At Work.” Psychology Help Center. American Psychological Association. Web. Jan 2018. http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/work-stress.aspx. 7“Coping With Stress At Work.” Psychology Help Center. American Psychological Association. Web. Jan 2018. http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/work-stress.aspx. 8 “Coping With Stress At Work.” Psychology Help Center. American Psychological Association. Web. Jan 2018. http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/work-stress.aspx. 9 “Coping With Stress At Work.” Psychology Help Center. American Psychological Association. Web. Jan 2018. http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/work-stress.aspx.