Many patients with mental health conditions have an unexpected reaction upon hearing their diagnosis: relief. Sure, learning you have bipolar disorder or generalized anxiety can raise a lot of questions, but for the most part, people find comfort in knowing they’re not alone and they haven’t simply been “imagining” these issues.
But then what?
Learning your diagnosis is one thing, but learning how to live with a mental health condition is another. Luckily, you don’t have to do this alone: In addition to the support of your family, friends, and doctors, you can draw on the wisdom of the 43.8 million U.S. adults who experience a mental illness each year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
HealthiNation spoke with a group of people who either have a mental health condition themselves or care for someone who does. Here’s their advice for living the best life with a mental illness.
1. Talk about it.
Mental illnesses can really invade your headspace and alter how you think. Opening up to a friend or therapist can reveal harmful thought patterns and help you perceive and react to events differently.
“When you don’t talk about it, it gets suppressed, and you internalize it,” says Trish Barillas, a patient with anxiety. “When you start to talk about it, it lessens the anxiety, so you kind of take the power away from it.”
Opening up about your experience also helps you connect with others. Mental illnesses can feel isolating and many patients suffer silently, when in reality, other people around you may be experiencing similar issues.
“At first, honestly, I didn’t tell people,” says Alisha Griffith, whose son has autism. As she started being more open about her family’s experience with autism, she began to see how many people in her live were also impacted by the condition. “If you start talking about it, you start to realize you really have more support.”
Of course, opening up can be hard. Try these tips for talking to loved ones about a difficult diagnosis.
2. Surround yourself with supporters.
There’s no good reason for anyone to keep toxic people in their lives, but avoiding “bad vibes” is especially important for someone with a mental illness. Choose your company carefully as they can have a big impact on your life.
“Have people that love you around you so they can help you get to your best self,” says Nancy Snell, who lives with depression.
3. Be patient.
If you’ve been silently struggling for years with a mental illness for a long time and have just learned your diagnosis, you’ll likely feel impatient about “making the bad thoughts stop” or “finding your old self again.” Yes, treatment can get you back on track, but it won’t happen overnight.
“People with anxiety want the quick fix,” says Barillas. “It’s going to take a little bit of time to find the right [therapist], to find the right medication, and to find the right balance, and once you do, you’ll know that.”