I believe mental health self-care starts with the right medication. The right medications are crucial for recovery. Personally, I have realized finding the right combination of drugs really makes the difference between being well or unwell.
Medications, while imperfect, are the leading treatment for mental illness and could make the difference between being high-functioning or going through a lot of pain. There are a few principles that help when choosing to take medication. Do not go off prescribed medication without consulting your doctor. Psychotropic medications are powerful, with serious side effects. Withdrawal can cause, at the very least, a flare in mental health symptoms.
Secondly, when making medication changes, work with a doctor, do it slowly and pay attention to the warning signs of relapse. Third of all, do research on medications. Know the side effects, in particular how to detect them and how to reduce them.
Once medicated, how we care for our bodies is essential. Most of us know that exercise and healthy food are good for us. Research states that, “Exercise improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood and by improving self-esteem and cognitive function” (Sharm, A. et al, 2006). In other words, exercise can improve mental health and quality of life.
Exercise also is important for mitigating the side effects of weight gain and potential health risks associated with many psychotropic drugs. We don’t want to compromise physical health for mental health, but at the same time medications are lifesaving and often integral to treatment.
Diet also has an impact on mood. Eating lots of sugar, red meat and caffeine is not helpful to feeling well because of its effect on energy levels, increasing the risk of physical illness. Along with a healthy diet, supplementation is also helpful. For example, omega fatty acids are good for the brain functioning and B vitamins support the nervous system (Stuart, A., 2008). I have found with the right combination of drugs and increased exercise and healthy diet that my symptoms lessen and even disappear.
While self-care is important to mental health, another crucial concept to wellness is putting together a clear picture of what triggers the illness. Looking at a mental health history will give clues for this. Work that affects my sleep and involves emotionally charged and physically draining situations lead me to illness. Creating a list of guidelines is helpful for heading in a healthy direction. For example, limiting work hours ensures adequate rest and time for self-care.
In general, patterns are lessons about the direction of health. Examining triggers that contribute to mental illness can shed light on how to keep well. Research states that the following triggers can create illness for a person with bipolar disorder: stress, addiction, medication, sleep deprivation, and seasonal changes (Smith & Segal, 2016). Triggers are unique for everyone. I recommend keeping a detailed list of the triggers on a fridge or desk bulletin board as a contract to staying well.
Finally, one of the main determinants of happiness I have seen in people, besides relationships with other people, is finding the right work or hobby. With purpose, there is meaning and hope. People with mental illness need strength to face their illness and part of this is taking pride in what they can offer the world. It doesn’t matter if it is paid or unpaid or volunteer work or employment. Having talked to people who have struggled with mental illness, finding a central focus has been a rewarding achievement.
Having a mental illness requires care of one’s physical and mental health. Staying well is a great personal challenge but can be manageable with proper attention to looking after oneself.
Sharm, A., Modoan, V., & Petty, F. (2006). Exercise for Mental Health. Prim Care Companion. J Clin
Psychiatry. 8(2), 106.
Smith, M., & Segal, J. (April 2016). Bipolar Disorder Signs and Symptoms: Recognizing Mania,
Hypomania & Bipolar Depression. Retrieved from http://www.helpguide.org/articles/bipolardisorder/bipolar-disorder-signs-and-symptoms.
Stuart, A. Herbs, Vitamins, & Supplements Used to Enhance Mood (2008). Retrieved from