Mental health recovery is an ongoing process, with ups and downs along the way. There are many ways to support your recovery. Developing a recovery plan with your health professionals that is based on your needs is a good way to begin.
A recovery plan may cover your goals, health, treatment, medication and overall recovery. You may like to share your plan with supportive family and friends. This will help them the signs of a relapse or setback and it can help them provide support when you need it.
Establish a wellness toolbox
Start by describing yourself when you are feeling well, list the things you need to do every day to maintain your health and wellness. Include how you feel both physically and mentally, your moods and feelings when you consider yourself to be in a state of wellness and how they contribute to your overall recovery.
You can then begin to think of ways to maintain that level of wellness. Some ideas to get you started might include:
- Physical health – Looking after physical health is important for everyone, but it can be an extra challenge if you have a mental illness.
- Healthy diet – Eating well allows your body access to all the nutrients it needs to function and helps maintain a healthy immune system.
- Stay active – This is not only great physically, it’s a great way to manage stress and it releases chemicals in your brain that make you feel happy and stay positive. It doesn’t have to be strenuous, start with a walk around the block.
- Sleeping well – A good sleep pattern helps your body repair itself and allows your brain to consolidate memories and process information.
- Managing stress – Stress is a part of life, but too much stress can affect your body and make you feel run down. It is important to understand the causes and find ways to manage your state of mind.
- Communicate – Make sure you connect with others. Staying in touch boosts feelings of well-being and decreases feelings of depression.
- Quit smoking – Talk to your health professional and develop a plan to that suits you. You may also like to contact Quit on 13 78 48.
- Avoid drugs and alcohol – Using drugs and alcohol can worsen your mental health symptoms, increase the chance of relapse and affect other physical health conditions. Talk to your mental health professionals about available substance abuse programs.
- Take your medication regularly – If you’re thinking of lowering a dose or stopping altogether, talk to your health professionals beforehand and develop a plan to reduce as safely as possible.
Try to get as much information as possible about your mental health condition and available treatments. Being informed will empower and prepare you to make decisions. Ask your health professionals if they can recommend any resources or see SANE’s Facts & Guides.
Stay in touch and get involved
Being connected with others is an important part of positive mental health. However, when affected by mental health issues, people may not feel like mixing with others. This isolation can result in delayed support, longer treatment and harder recovery.
Get involved with support services
Support services are often run by community health or community mental health organisations. These programs are based around individual support activities – such as walking, writing, meditation – or special groups including young peoples’ groups, women’s groups and cultural groups. They may provide structured programs where you can learn new skills to help you get back on your feet, while meeting others in a similar situation.
A popular Australia wide in-person peer group is Grow. Groups meet weekly and engage in group discussions and interactions that allow everyone to be involved. You can learn more via the resources page. Your local council should also be able to direct you to services in your area.
Peer support groups provide a place to meet with others in a similar situation or with similar illnesses in a relaxed, non-judgemental environment. The SANE Forums are an online space where you can engage with others in this way to exchange experiences, information and tips, and provide mutual support. The Forums are available 24/7 and are a safe, anonymous, and moderated service provided by SANE in partnership with community mental health support services all around Australia.
Stay in touch
Some ways to stay connected can include:
- surrounding yourself with positive people and influences
- staying in touch with family and friends
- going out even if you don't feel like it, be as brief or low key as you like
- telling someone how you are feeling, be it a friend, family member, or medical professional
- trying some friendly banter with shop assistants – sometimes simply saying hello, or asking about a person's day can help you feel connected (or even just a smile).
Meet new people
One of the first ways to establish relationships is to meet new people. You can meet people in places you visit, where people gather for a common interest, or through a hobby.
Some ideas you may like to try out include:
- schools or classes
- support groups or advocacy organisations
- work settings or professional organisations
- religious or spiritual centres
- health centres, sporting clubs or exercise groups
- unleash your creative mind through photography, painting, arts and crafts, gardening, or music
- online communities.
Develop a wellness and crisis plan
Part of recovery is anticipating and planning for any potential future relapses. Planning can empower you to make your own decisions, rather than have decisions made for you. Planning needs to be undertaken when you are relatively well and able to make decisions.
Basically speaking, a crisis plan is a list of warning signs, triggers, supports, contact numbers, preferred treatments, medications, therapies, things that help, things that don't and places you feel safe when in crisis. It can be as detailed or simple as you want, but make sure it's written down and others know of it's existance.
Speak with your treating health professionals and supportive family and friends to help design a plan to suit.
Understand your triggers
Triggers are external events that can make you feel uncomfortable, and can lead to relapse. By knowing your triggers you can develop strategies to deal with them and reduce the risk of relapse. Triggers are different for everyone, but can include:
- stopping medication or not taking medication as prescribed
- using drugs and alcohol
- being under stress or overwhelmed
- conflict in relationships
- illness or death of a loved one.
Relapses and warning signs
Some relapses can happen quickly, but many happen gradually over time. Some signs are subtle and can be hard to notice, while others are more obvious clues of a potential relapse. By learning to recognise warning signs, you can get help early and avoid a full-blown crisis. These can include:
- too much or too little sleep
- feeling tense, nervous, or hostile
- social withdrawal or isolation
- decline in personal hygiene
- increase in paranoia, hallucinations, or hearing voices
- confusing or nonsensical speech
- false beliefs or delusions (thinking people are against you, being overconfident in your abilities)
- increase in risk-taking behaviours (spending money, using alcohol/drugs).
Recovery is a process. Over time you are likely to develop useful strategies for your journey to improved mental health. It’s not uncommon however, to feel overwhelmed from time to time, and drawing on your strategies may be hard.
If you need a little extra support, the SANE Help Centre is available Monday to Friday 10am to 10pm and the SANE Forums are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.