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Living with Common Mental Illnesses
Having a mental illness makes it harder to cope with day-to-day life. Conditions like anxiety and depression affect how you think and feel—and therefore how you behave. However, if you experience one of these conditions, it is important to learn how to live with it, for both your sake, and the sake of those around you.
This page provides a round-up of advice about how you can live with one or more common mental illnesses. It is not condition-specific. It is also fair to say that there is no ‘one size fits all’ with mental health. However, the hope is that you may find some or all of it useful in learning to manage your life and your illness side by side.
Mental Illnesses Have Wide-Ranging Effects
Having a mental illness can affect the whole of your life: from relationships through to work, money and where you live.
There is also undeniably still a stigma about mental illness in many places and cultures, and this can make it much harder to tell anyone—which, of course, also makes it harder to manage.
It is astonishing that we should be saying this, because mental illness affects huge numbers of people around the world. The National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates that one in five US citizens will experience mental health problems in any given year, and that one in twenty is living with a severe mental illness such as bipolar disorder or recurring depression. These are big numbers.
If possible, try to think of ‘having a mental illness’ as akin to ‘having a debilitating chronic physical condition’: something that you cannot help, and which does not define you, but which does affect your ability to do things.
There will be days when it is harder to work, or to get where you need to be.
Don’t be afraid to ask for whatever help you need, including from your place of work, family and friends, and mental healthcare professionals.
If your employer has an HR department, you can approach them confidentially for help. If not, it is not unreasonable to speak to your manager and ask for flexibility. You may also need additional consideration from your bank, or you may be able to access support grants or benefits. Local mental health charities and non-governmental organisations will be able to steer you in the right direction, as will local authorities and healthcare providers.
The Importance of Looking After Yourself Physically
Mens sana in corpore sano [a healthy mind in a healthy body]
Juvenal, Satire X
The Roman poet Juvenal wrote that you should pray for a healthy mind in a healthy body. However, over time, his phrase has come to encapsulate the idea that your mental well-being and health cannot be separated from your physical health.
In other words, when you are living with a mental illness, it is important to look after yourself physically.
This can be very challenging, especially if one of your symptoms is a feeling that you are not worthwhile, or if you are struggling simply to get out of bed in the morning. However, self-care matters.
Getting a good night’s sleep, taking regular exercise, and eating a healthy diet can all help to improve your mental well-being—and therefore help you to stay in charge of a mental illness.
Contact with nature also has proven benefits for mental health, so if you can, try to take your exercise outside, in a park or garden.
Getting the Right Treatment
Perhaps the most important aspect of living with a common mental illness is getting the right treatment—and then following that course of treatment.
Many people are reluctant to seek help for mental health problems, perhaps because of the possible stigma, or because they think that admitting that they have a problem may be the ‘beginning of the end’. They may have misconceptions about psychiatrists and their role, or believe that seeing a psychiatrist simply won’t help them. If you feel like this, you may find it helpful to read more about this issue on BetterHelp, and about why being anti-psychiatrist can do more harm than good.
Getting the right treatment is crucial.
Your family doctor may be able to help. However, often the help of a psychiatrist is needed to get a diagnosis and to find the best course of treatment. And, of course, once you have sought help, and been prescribed a course of treatment, you need to follow it. It will certainly NOT do you any good if you fail to take your medication or refuse to attend therapy sessions.
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Self-Help and Self-Management
There are various things that you can do to help yourself manage your mental health condition, known as self-help, or self-management.
The most common recommendation is probably use of mindfulness techniques, including meditation. Some relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and yoga may also help.
You can find out more about some useful techniques in our pages on Relaxation, and in our guest post on Tips for Managing Mental Health Problems.
There are also activities that it may be helpful to avoid if you have mental health problems. For example, it is a good idea to stay away from friends who are unsupportive, or who make you feel worse about yourself. Social media use can also be problematic (see box).
Social media and mental health
Is social media use bad for your mental health? Officially, the jury is still out on this.
However, there is increasingly awareness that social media use is unlikely to be helpful for many mental health problems. Everyone uses it to present an idealised view of their lives, rather than a ‘warts and all’ picture. If you already feel that everyone is doing better than you, this is not going to help.
You can find out more about this, and how to manage the issue, in our page on Problematic Smartphone Use.
Be Kind to Yourself
Finally, it is important to remember that you are not to blame for your mental illness. Often, the best thing that you can do is to just be kind to yourself. Give yourself a break, and don’t beat yourself up if you have a bad day or can’t manage something. You matter, and you will best help yourself by remembering that.
About the Author
Melissa has been writing content for SkillsYouNeed since 2013. She holds an MBA and previously worked as a civil servant and. Now with a young family, she is learning all about applying her skills to real life.