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SUSTAINABLE RECOVERY: THE GOAL IN PERSISTENT MENTAL ILLNESS

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Patricia O'Neill, Ph.D.

Dr. Michael A. Fuller, the Director of Psychiatric Forensic Services at University of Texas, Medical Branch in Galveston, joined one of a growing number of mental health professionals and other achievers today in disclosing his own diagnosis of bipolar disorder. In an article (see below) published in the Health Section of the Longview News-Journal, Fuller talked about his own experience of the management and sustained recovery that can be achieved, even in the absence of a cure.

It is such a good thing for the public to be made aware that mental illness does not always keep people from high achievement. I really appreciate the many people who have “come out” and shared their personal experiences of living with a severe mental illness. There’s Ellen Saks, a professor at the University of Southern California, who wrote about her lifelong struggle with severe schizophrenia.  The popularity of Saks’ book, “The Center Cannot Hold,” makes it clear that public interest in mental illness is neither limited to horror movies nor extreme cases that make headlines, such as that of Levi Aron, the Brooklyn man accused of murdering a child. Another celebrated case is that of mathematician and Nobel Laureate, Dr. John Naish, whose struggle was portrayed, albeit in a somewhat fictionalized fashion, in the hit film “A Beautiful Mind.” The number of celebrities disclosing their bipolar illness during the last few years has become too long to list in a blog post.

I have long been a proponent of illness management toward sustained recovery, which is meant to be about personal best rather than striving to “be normal,” whatever that is. Living with chronic mental illness is surely different from living without it. But there is treatment, and a great quality of life is possible.  A multifaceted illness management plan is invaluable.

In setting up an illness management plan, one of the most important aspects is having people who can be counted on to tell one honestly when symptoms begin to show.  And who can tell one early. Even one person can be enough, if contact is frequent.  That means making a decision to trust someone, which may be difficult at first. It’s not as hard as one might think; people who care are already aware when someone is struggling, and most always want to feel like they can help. It may even bring them closer.

Even when one is doing everything “right” — taking medication as prescribed, good self care, excellent nutrition, social interaction, and so forth, unavoidable external stressors can build up and cause return of symptoms.  Bringing a trusted friend or friends on board, or a family member where there is good rapport is a great way to start. “Hey, if you notice that I am getting angry more easily than usual, let me know.” Or “If I start spacing out a lot, tell me.” If you are one of the lucky people who has a strong therapeutic alliance with a therapist, she can tell you right away when she notices a resurgence of symptoms or help to respond quickly when someone else notices, by strategizing to avoid a downward spiral: an important part of illness management.

 

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Posted in All Articles, Psychoeducation, Treatment.


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  1. Anne says

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