5 Ways to Cope with a Diagnosis of Mental Illness

Hearing a diagnosis of mental illness can be heartbreaking for many. Some people feel relief at finally having a name to put to their issues, where others may become angry or afraid because they have a disorder to cope with.

However, a diagnosis is important because it means that you can move on to treatment. Doctors can use their experience with similar diagnoses to construct a personalized plan to address disorders, and advise you about future health risks. Most importantly, insurance companies will have a reason to apply aid now that they have a name for the condition.

Credit to flickr.com user ccarlstead. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

But what do you do with a diagnosis once you have one?

1. Learn

First, learn about your diagnosis. Ask your doctor to recommend books or websites, like nami.org, the official site of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Once you learn the basics, like what the symptoms of your illness are, you can transition to learning about treatments and what you can do to help your recovery.

2. Find Doctors

Next, create a treatment team. Ideally, you’d have a therapist and a psychiatrist–or nurse practitioner–who can prescribe medication for you. Presumably you already have one, if you have a diagnosis. But make sure your team is rounded out. There are low-cost options for mental health services out there. Try looking into support groups offered by local NAMI chapters or ant your local library. Ask your doctors if they offer sliding scale fees based on income. If you’re near a university, see if they have a graduate program for psychology, where a therapist-in-training can take you on as a client. Here’s a list of 406 free or low-cost clinics in Washington state, 138 of which offer mental health services.

3. Journal

Writing down your troubles is a proven way to start addressing them. If you have concerns about your diagnosis, write them down so you can bring them up with your doctors later. Scribble down what you plan to do as a result of this diagnosis, whether it be sharing your condition with loved ones or keeping it close to your chest. Figure out whether you need to adjust your treatment team, regarding whether or not you’re relating to the people responsible for your care.

4. Find a Team You

Team You, a term taken from the delightful blog Captain Awkward, is a term used to describe the supportive, unbiased people in your life like counselors, psychiatrists, parents, reliable sitters, religious figures, and friends who may or may not have kids of their own. This assistance is invaluable to a person dealing with a diagnosis of mental illness. Unfortunately, collecting a solid Team You takes time. If you’re a parent, then hopefully you have parent friends—ideally ones who you are comfortable explaining your struggle to. Attend groups from Meetup.com or local libraries. Try out classes, and take notes on your classmates as well as the subject material. Toddler groups are excellent places to search for potential allies, too.

5. Hold Yourself Accountable

Once you have a treatment team and a Team You in place, don’t flake out on them. Attend your doctor’s appointments and take your meds. Keep updating your journal regularly with shifts in your moods, so you can find out if the treatment plan you’ve been given is working. Keep up with your friends and allies.

A diagnosis of mental illness isn’t a life sentence. Many people can and do recover completely from their disorders, and more severe mental conditions can be managed. Help is out there. You are worth exploring every avenue of care.

Author: Cassandra Stout

Freelance writer Cassandra Stout blogs weekly at the award-winning Bipolar Parent, a comprehensive resource for parents with mental illnesses. She also blogs monthly at the International Bipolar Foundation website (IPBF.org). Her work has been published in the anthology, How the Light Gets In. Cassandra holds degrees from the University of Arizona in Creative Writing and Journalism. She has been a judge for the Pacific Northwest Writers' Association literary contest for nine years, where her memoir, Committed, recently placed as a finalist. She balances her literary work with raising her children, feeding her cat, and managing her bipolar disorder.

10 thoughts on “5 Ways to Cope with a Diagnosis of Mental Illness”

  1. These are all great pointers, but I especially like “Find a Team You” – I’ve never heard that term before. That is currently my biggest challenge. I have a great counselor & pdoc, but the IRL friends I have are very few. Just like you said, developing a “Team You” takes time. I regularly check out the local Meetups being formed, and heck, I joined Friends of the Library as a volunteer. Hopefully I’ll meet a couple kindred spirits over the next few years. Fingers are crossed!

    1. Dear, dear Dyane,
      It’s always so difficult to find friends! I have a lot of online friends who I hold dear to my heart (like you!) but it’s hard to find friends in meatspace. What with busy schedules and people who just don’t quite click, it’s almost irritating how difficult it is! All this is to say I totally feel you, and I hope you find friends soon!

  2. Just wanted to thank you for such a sweet reply!
    I go through phases where I ruminate too much on the lack of friends I have. Last night I checked out a few online friend sites (Girlfriend Social, something with the word “Jane” in it, and began looking at Girfriendology but it froze, so I’ll revisit it later on) – the first two sites didn’t yield any possibilities, but I’ll keep looking around!

  3. I love the idea of having a ‘Team You’ and I’m pleased I’ve had one all along through the roughness of not having a diagnosis or being on the correct medications. They refused to leave my side no matter how much I hurt them or hurt myself.

    The bit I’ve struggled with most is that I’m really open about my diagnosis, I’ll tell just about anyone, but a lot of my family members are literally horrified that I would. They simply can’t get over the stigma surrounding it. My Stepmum said I shouldn’t say bipolar, I should just say ’emotionally wobbly’!

    Will be reading with great interest, thank you for this post,

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting! I’m so glad you have a solid Team You to help you you through tough times! That ’emotionally wobbly’ sentiment is terrible. Bipolar disorder is a legitimate disease, one that kills if it’s not treated properly. I’m so sorry your family doesn’t want you to be open about such a large part of your life. I hope that improves–and soon. Thanks again!

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