Living with Mental Illness


Innovations in the range of evidence based medications, therapy and psychosocial services such as psychiatric rehabilitation, housing, employment and peer supports have made wellness and recovery a reality for people living with mental health conditions.

Choosing the right mix of treatments and supports that work for you is an important step in the recovery process. Treatment choices for mental health conditions will vary from person to person. Even people with the same diagnosis will have different experiences, needs, goals and objectives for treatment. There is no "one size fits all" treatment.

When people are directly involved in designing their own treatment plan, including defining recovery and wellness goals, choosing services that support them and evaluating treatment decisions and progress, the experience of care and outcomes are improved. There are many tools that can improve the experience on the road to wellness: medication, counseling (therapy), social support and education. Therapy, for example, can take many forms, from learning relaxation skills to intensively reworking your thinking patterns. Social support, acceptance and encouragement from friends, family and others can also make a difference. Education about how to manage a mental health condition along with other medical conditions can provide skills and support to enrich the unique journey toward overall recovery and wellness.

Together with a treatment team you can develop a well-rounded and integrated recovery plan that may include counseling medications support groups, education programs and other strategies that work for you.

Abstract photo of zen rocks stacked with peach background
woman wearing beanie with praying hands and smiling


Mental illnesses are treatable disorders of the brain. Left untreated, they are among the most disabling and destructive illnesses. Recovery is possible with proper treatment and sometimes medication.

What is Mental Health Recovery?

In mental health, recovery does not always refer to the process of complete recovery from a mental health problem in the way that we may recover from a physical health problem.

When people hear the word "recovery" they often interpret it in a traditional sense to mean "cure". Because of this, it can be difficult to see how recovery can apply to mental illness. In medicine, the term "recovery" is applied to long-term or chronic disorders such as diabetes, asthma, many physical disabilities, and substance abuse problems such as alcohol addiction. It is not meant to imply a cure, but rather refers to a return to full or partial functioning in most aspects of one's life. In a broad sense, to be "in recovery" refers to finding ways of resolving issues that arise in the course of having a mental illness and creating a more positive, meaningful, and satisfying way of life.

The recovery model aims to help people with mental health problems to look beyond mere survival and existence. It encourages them to move forward, set new goals and do things and develop relationships that give their lives meaning.

Recovery emphasizes that, while people may not have full control over their symptoms, they can have full control over their lives. Recovery is not about "getting rid" of problems. It is about seeing beyond a person's mental health problems, recognizing and fostering their abilities, interests and dreams.

Essential Ingredients in the Recovery Process

  • Acceptance: Acceptance of the diagnosis by the ill relative, family, and friends is essential for the process of recovery to begin. Acceptance is more likely to result in early intervention.
  • Adherence to Treatmeant: Medication and therapy greatly aid in recovery. Although the benefits may not be completely obvious at first, following a treatment plan will significantly improve your ill relative's mental health.
  • Holistic Approach: Recovery encompasses the varied aspects of an individual's life, including housing, employment, education, recreation, mental health and healthcare services, addictions treatment, spirituality, creativity, social networks, and community participation.
  • Responsibility: Outcomes are improved when people take personal responsibility to pursue and sustain recovery to the greatest extent possible. This involves taking steps towards identifying and achieving personal goals and can include creating a Ulysses Agreement or Advance Plan which will enable your ill relative to state what they would like to happen in the event that they become ill or relapse.
  • Early Intervention: Early intervention and early use of new medications lead to better medical outcomes for the individual. The earlier your ill relative is diagnosed and stabilized with treatment, the better the long-term prognosis.
  • Empowerment: Recovery is aided when people are given the support and education to make their own decisions and to exercise their “right to try”.
  • Strengths-Based Approach: Recovery focuses on validating and building upon the strengths, capabilities, coping skills, resiliency, and inherent worth of individuals. This involves a constant awareness that "you are not your illness."

Medication for Treatment

Medications can play an important part of a treatment plan. Psychiatric medications work by influencing the brain chemicals regulating emotions and thought patterns. Treatment typically consists of pills or capsules taken daily. A few medications are available as liquids, as injections or as tablets that dissolve in the mouth.

For most medications, your provider will start at a low dose and slowly increase dosages to therapeutic levels. Following these instructions will reduce side effects and discomfort.

Whenever stopping a medication, it's necessary to work with a doctor to taper off the dosage while brain chemicals get used to the change. Stopping medication abruptly can result in uncomfortable side effects.

image of white and pink pills on a table
woman in blue robe holding a pink stethoscope in a heart shape to the camera

Medication Management

Medicines are usually more effective when combined with psychotherapy. In some cases, medication can reduce symptoms so that other methods of a treatment plan can be more effective. For example, a medication may alleviate some significant symptoms of major depression and then talk therapy can help you change negative patterns of thinking.

Be persistent until you find the medication or combination of medications that works for you. A few psychiatric medications work quickly and you will see improvements within days, but many work more slowly. You may need to take a medication for several weeks before you see improvement.

Trial and Error

Medications may work better for one person than for another. It is difficult to predict exactly who will respond to what medication. Doctors usually review clinical records and see if there is an evidence base for recommending one type of medicine over another. Family history and side effects also come into play when prescribing medication. Medications for mental illness fall into the following categories:

  • Antipsychotics
  • Antidepressants
  • Anti-anxiety Medications
  • Mood Stabilizers

Side Effects
Side effects are a part of taking mental health medications. Newer medications have fewer side effects than older ones, but no medication is 100% side effect free. Many people don't experience side effects or see them go away within a few weeks. Changing medications or dosages will often resolve a side effect problem. It is important to stay in close contact with your health care provider in managing side effects. If you feel a medication doesn't work, or you are having side effects, consult with a provider to adjust the treatment plan.

image of pink, white and blue flower petals on a white table
solid white facebook icon
solid white instagram icon
solid white twitter icon
solid white linkedin icon
solid white NAMI Jacksonville logo

© 2024 NAMI Jacksonville Florida, Inc. |   All Rights Reserved