What does recovery from mental illness look like? That’s a question that almost anyone affected by a mental health disorder wants an answer to. A truly satisfying answer can be complicated. It’s important to understand how mental illnesses can manifest, how they are treated, and the differences in their reoccurrences. Yet there is hope: Recovery from mental illness is possible, even for some with treatment-resistant depression.
Understanding the Wide Variety of Mental Health Disorders
A mental health disorder isn’t a single illness but encompasses many distinctly different disorders, some of which are similar in terms of symptoms. As such, it is best to get a medical evaluation to determine if there is a diagnosable mental health disorder with treatment recommendations. Still, having a general knowledge of the different types of mental illnesses and their prevalence can be helpful when searching for information about recovery from mental illness or asking if a mental illness can be cured.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), includes a lengthy list of nearly 300 different mental health conditions. The most common types of mental health disorders include:
- Anxiety disorders – According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), anxiety is the most common mental health disorder in America, affecting over 40 million adults.
- Mood disorders (including depression, bipolar disorder, cyclothymic disorder)
- Psychotic disorders (including schizophrenia)
- Personality disorders (including obsessive-compulsive disorder, antisocial personality disorder, paranoid personality disorder)
- Eating disorders (including bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa, binge eating disorder)
- Disorders of impulse control and addiction
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – Often triggered by a traumatic event, PTSD affects an estimated 3.6 percent of adults in the U.S.
Varying but Long “Recovery” Times
There’s no magic cure for mental illness, yet recovery from mental illness is achievable with effective treatment. How long it takes for recovery varies but most recovery times tend to be longer rather than short.
Also, since an estimated 25 percent of those with a serious mental health disorder suffer from substance use disorder or another mental health disorder, treating both simultaneously in a multi-faceted approach is both challenging but necessary. Often individuals who have a serious mental health disorder such as depression, OCD, PTSD, or bipolar disorder seek relief from symptoms by using alcohol or drugs, exacerbating their problems and fostering an addiction.
How Mental Health Disorders Present
Individuals and family members and loved ones who suspect the presence of a mental health disorder need to know the signs and symptoms, or how most mental illnesses present.
Among the common symptoms of many mental health disorders are:
- Experiencing forgetfulness, confusion, sadness, fear, anger, irritability, or anxiety
- Having constant fights, arguments, or disagreements with family members or friends
- Going through frequent swings in mood that cause problems with relationships
- Feeling numb or lacking empathy
- Being fatigued despite getting enough sleep
- Inability to sleep or sleeping too much
- Using alcohol, illicit drugs, or smoking more than before
- Feeling helpless, lost, or hopeless
- Hearing voices that aren’t there and won’t stop
- Constantly having mental flashbacks that don’t go away
- Having intrusive thoughts that won’t dissipate
- Eating too little or too much
- Keeping family and friends at a distance or stopping favorite, enjoyable activities
- Experiencing unusual bodily aches and pains
- Having recurring thoughts of self-harm or of hurting others
- Feeling unable to carry out everyday responsibilities, duties, or chores
What Living a Life With a Mental Health Disorder Means
What does it mean to live with a mental health disorder? In very real terms, day-to-day living may look somewhat different than it did before being diagnosed with a mental illness. Can a person recover from mental illness? The answer is an unquestionable “yes.” Key determinants include seeking and committing to effective treatment, developing and maintaining a strong support network, adopting and continuing to utilize healthy behavioral and lifestyle changes, and keeping a positive outlook.
Often family members lack knowledge about mental health disorders and are unprepared to deal with the ramifications of a mental illness that progressively impairs their loved one’s life and wreaks havoc on the relationships in their family. Psychosocial education of all family members, in addition to the extensive educational process the diagnosed individual goes through, is crucial to an effective recovery from mental illness.
For their part, the individual with a mental health disorder is bewildered about the unwelcome changes going on in their life, finding it difficult to get through the day, perplexed, angered, and afraid of what lies ahead. They can feel ashamed about being different and are well aware of the stigma surrounding mental illness, which may prevent them from seeking treatment in a mental health rehab program.
What the Treatment/Maintenance can Look Like
After a thorough medical examination to rule out a physical cause for symptoms and some psychological tests to screen for a mental health disorder, a treatment plan can be prepared that takes into account all the pertinent factors of the mental illness, the individual’s family history, any prior or co-occurring substance use disorder, and other factors.
Treatment for mental health disorders typically includes medications, psychotherapy, treatment in a hospital or residential treatment setting, alternative treatments, and lifestyle changes. Mental health professionals stress that it often takes time to identify the most effective medication type and dosage, so it’s important to continue taking the medication according to the doctor’s recommendation and working with the doctor to find the one that works best.
Why it Needs Understanding
While many individuals diagnosed with a mental illness want to know when it can be psychologically cured, and their loved ones and family members are eager to find how to cure mental illness, the reality is that only professional treatment based on the individual’s particular mental health disorder will help minimize symptoms or eventually eliminate many or most of them. This process often involves a considerable shift in expectations of an immediate cure to an acceptance of the need for undergoing treatment and maintenance for as long as symptoms persist.
Mental health experts say that much of psychotherapy for mental health disorders involves explaining various medications that may be prescribed for the condition, how to prevent the occurrence of episodes, how and why it’s important to get good sleep, the value of CBT, and other therapies in reducing stress and other symptoms.
PTSD, for example, cannot be cured, although it can be effectively treated and managed through the use of medications, psychotherapy, strategies of self-management (such as mindfulness), and utilizing service dogs or other service animals to lessen some of the more severe symptoms.
Similarly, no cure yet exists for schizophrenia, although it can be successfully managed through the use of psychotherapy, antipsychotic medications, and education and strategies for self-management.
Any Mental Health Disorder can Have Episodes or Recurrences
For anyone anxious for recovery from mental illness, the natural tendency is to want the episodes to be over quickly and not return. This concern, especially when someone is first diagnosed with a mental illness, is normal. Yet understanding that there can be episodes or recurrences with any mental health disorder is paramount in mental illness recovery.
Bipolar disorder, for example, is a lifelong illness. According to the National Institutes on Mental Health (NIMH), someone with bipolar disorder will typically experience episodes of mania and depression that re-occur over time. In between those episodes, they may not have any mood swings or they may continue to have some symptoms. With the right long-term and continuous bipolar disorder treatment, however, most individuals with the diagnosed disorder can effectively manage their symptoms.
Even though mental health disorder episodes may happen again in the future, or become periodic, appropriate maintenance in the form of prescribed medications, combination therapies, and strategies for management, and interventions that go beyond medications can improve the quality of life for the diagnosed individual and help eliminate many of the symptoms, particularly those that are most troubling or debilitating.
Worried about yourself or a family member struggling with a possible mental health disorder? FHE Health can help. Contact us today for a free, confidential discussion to identify potential life-saving treatment and get on the road to recovery from mental illness.