Tips for Managing Mental Health Problems

See also: What is Anxiety?

Living with and managing mental health problems is not easy. Mental health issues affect how you behave and how you think, and that makes it hard to cope.

Nobody’s experience of mental ill-health is exactly the same as anyone else’s. However, there are things that you can do that will make it easier—and many of these things are common to a lot of people.

This page provides some general tips for managing mental health problems. None of these is condition-specific, and some may work better for you than others.

1. Build a support network around you—and don’t be afraid to draw on it

Building and maintaining a support network is an important part of maintaining your mental well-being. Relationships matter to us: research shows that the quality and number of relationships is the most important aspect in long-term health and happiness.

It is, therefore, worth taking time to build a support network around you. However, you must also be prepared to draw on that network when you need help and support.

Help with mental health problems does NOT come only from healthcare professionals. Your family and friends can provide important support. Indeed, seeking a bit of support from those around you may enable you to ‘head off’ problems before they begin.

2. Build awareness of yourself and your own symptoms as a first step towards self-management

One of the hardest things about managing mental health problems is building an awareness of the signs that you may need to ask for help. Often, by the time you or (more likely) those around you realise that you need help, you may be a long way down the road.

It is worth spending a bit of time reflecting on your feelings and behaviour leading up to any episodes of mental health problems. This may help you to identify symptoms that indicate that you need additional help. Keeping a diary can help you to reflect on your feelings very effectively.

Our page on Reflective Practice suggests ways to reflect on and learn from your experience.

Seek professional help when you need it

This has been said many times before, but it is worth repeating: there is no shame in asking for help when you need it.

This means asking for help from family and friends, but also from mental health professionals. They are experts in treating mental health conditions. Do not hesitate to involve them, not least because they are a gateway to further assistance, and have the power to make your life much, much easier to manage.

4. Discuss treatment alternatives—but be prepared to take professional advice

There are many alternative treatments for most mental health conditions. The two most common forms are talking therapies and medication.

  • Talking therapies include various forms of psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioural therapy.

  • There are also several different forms of medications, including anti-depressants and anti-psychotics. What you are prescribed will depend on your condition.

  • There are also some alternative and complementary therapies that may help with mental health problems, including art therapy.

If you are reluctant to follow a particular course of therapy—say, for example, you were not sure about taking a particular medication—then it is worth discussing alternatives.

You and your doctor need to work together to decide on your course of treatment. You are, after all, the expert on your personal mental health, but they are the expert on the medicine.

Sometimes you will need to accept their professional judgement—but you still need to be comfortable with what is prescribed.

5. Ask questions about your treatment, so you can understand why it’s been prescribed—and then accept it

You need to understand what you have been prescribed and why, whether that is talking therapy, medication or an alternative or complementary therapy.

Ask questions. Make sure that you are fully informed about what your prescribed treatment will and won’t address. It is helpful to understand its limitations as well as its potential.

However, once you are fully informed, and understand why something has been prescribed, go with it. Take your medication, or attend your therapy—however sceptical you may be.

Generally, doctors prescribe treatment, especially medication, for a reason. It is recognised that many mental health issues are effectively disorders of the brain, and sometimes that means you need medication. You can find out more about this concept, which is known as biological psychiatry, from

6. Try some easy techniques and activities that may help you to cope

There are a number of tried-and-tested ways to improve your mental health. For example, many people recommend taking exercise, or using mindfulness techniques, including meditation. However, there are a few other ideas that are proven to work for some people, and may be helpful. They include:

  • Deep breathing – something as simple as taking a deep breath, holding it for five seconds and releasing it can help.

  • There are more breathing techniques in our page on Relaxation.
  • Radical acceptance – the concept of totally accepting something with your whole heart and mind. Acceptance that something has happened or will happen leaves you free to take care of yourself, rather than worrying about whether you can stop the ‘something’. This can be very helpful with things that you cannot change.

  • Going through your five senses –one useful technique is to simply run through your five senses, and note what you are experiencing through each one. For example, perhaps you can hear the clock ticking, and see the second hand moving around the clock face. You can smell your dinner cooking, and you can feel your seat underneath you, and taste the piece of chewing gum in your mouth. This, like mindfulness, can help to ground you in the present, and is therefore especially useful with any condition that results in flashbacks.

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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.