So, You’ve Been Diagnosed with a Mental Illness: 5 Things You Need to Know
By: Chelsea Belinsky, MA, LMHC, LCPC, NCC
If you have been diagnosed with a mental illness, you may have many questions or you are unsure what to do with this new information. These are 5 things you need to know to get you started on your healing journey.
- You are not to blame for your mental illness. Many people develop guilt regarding their mental illness. If you have been diagnosed with a mental illness, it is very common to experience thoughts such as “What did I do wrong?” and “Is this my fault?” Mental illness can develop due to genetic/biological factors such as family history of mental illness. Some mental illnesses have a higher probability of developing if their parents or family members have been diagnosed (i.e. Bipolar I and II Disorder). Secondly, mental illness may develop due to environmental factors and life-experiences. Someone who experiences abuse, or a traumatic event may develop mental illness from such experiences. Understanding how mental illness develops can help to alleviate some of these feelings of guilt.
- Educate yourself on mental illness. Perhaps you have recently been diagnosed with a mental illness, this can potentially be an overwhelming experience. Your first inclination might be to use Google to look up your diagnosis. Although this can be helpful, it can also potentially lead to misinformation and unnecessary stress. If you want to educate yourself, be sure to use reputable sources such as Psychology Today, NAMI or use recommendations from health care professionals. If you are in therapy, your therapist can be an excellent source to discuss outlook and developmental course of a mental illness over time, as well as evidence-based treatment options.
- Identify and utilize your support system. This is a vital component of living with mental illness. An important thing to remember is that you do not have to go through mental illness alone. Who is your support system? Take some time to identify people who you can trust and who have demonstrated compassion and care to you. This can be a relative, friend, significant other or coworker. If you have strained relationships with family or friends, therapy is an amazing option for unbiased and consistent support. There are also alternative resources such as support groups or therapeutic processing groups. Involving yourself in recreational activities and clubs can also be great options to connect with people. Above all, don’t be afraid to lean on your support system as you navigate living with a mental illness.
- Taking care of your physical health will not fix everything, but it will have an impact. Living with mental illness can be difficult, there may be days when you don’t want to get out of bed, you may be too anxious to go to your doctor appointment or you are skipping meals. It can be very difficult to manage your mental health if your physical health is suffering. If we take care of our physical bodies, it can make it easier to focus on thoughts and feelings. Schedule annual medical appointments. Go for a 5-minute walk. Perhaps eat small snacks during the day to fuel your body. Try implementing a morning or nighttime routine if you struggle in these areas. You will have an easier time maintaining good mental health habits when your body is functioning at its best.
- You are more than your mental illness. It is likely that you may experience challenges associated with symptoms related to your mental illness; however, there are many other abilities and strengths that you possess which are separate from your illness. Allowing illness to define you, or labeling yourself as “crazy,” only perpetuates the stigma and belief that those who have mental illness are broken and therefore cannot function in society. When you are able to separate yourself from limiting thoughts, blame and shame you allow yourself the mental freedom to truly be who you are. Remember that you are so much more than your mental illness. You are capable. You are resilient and you matter.