Young Adult Mental Health & Substance Abuse Treatment Centers

10 Ways to Manage a Chronic Mental Health Condition

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Most people think of a chronic illness as an ongoing physical health problem, like diabetes, heart disease, or multiple sclerosis. But chronic mental health problems are also common. And just as chronic physical illnesses must be managed, it’s equally necessary to manage a chronic mental health condition.

Managing a chronic mental illness can be taxing, even more so for young adults who are still finding their footing in the world. Young adults with chronic mental health conditions may feel misunderstood by family and friends. They may have a hard time finding the right job and feeling safe in the workplace. And they may fear that they’ll never get better.

However, with effective treatment and emotional support, young adults with chronic mental health conditions can thrive in relationships, career, and life in general.

Key Takeaways

  • Chronic mental illnesses are defined as conditions that consistently affect a person’s cognition and/or emotions for at least three months or more.
  • Some of the more common chronic illnesses are anxiety disorders, mood disorders, personality disorders, and psychotic disorders.
  • Managing a chronic mental illness can involve going to therapy, taking medication, attending support groups, and practicing self-care.
  • Young adults can have a chronic mental illness and still live a satisfying and productive life.

What Is Chronic Mental Illness?

A chronic mental illness is a condition that taxes an individual’s mental health, cognition, and/or emotional well-being in an ongoing way. Some people suffering from mental illness only experience a few short episodes. But others must manage their illness throughout their lives. 

Any physical or mental health condition that lasts at least three months and is expected to continue indefinitely is considered chronic.

Chronic mental illnesses can vary in their impact, ranging from mild to moderate to severe impairment. Serious mental illnesses significantly interfere with or limit individuals from performing daily activities.

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Chronic Mental Illness Examples

There are more than 200 types of mental health disorders. Some of the more common categories of chronic mental health disorders include the following:

  • Anxiety Disorders: People with anxiety disorders worry and panic on levels that are out of proportion to their circumstances. Generalized anxiety disorder, phobias, social anxiety disorder, and agoraphobia are among the types of anxiety disorders.
  • Mood Disorders: Mood disorders produce persistent sad feelings and despondency, or fluctuations from intense happiness to intense sorrow. The most common mood disorders are depression and bipolar disorder. Premenstrual dysphoric disorder, which occurs a week or more before menstruation, can cause severe mood changes and feelings of depression.
  • Personality Disorders: People with personality disorders have extreme personality traits. Some examples include obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, and borderline personality disorder.
  • Substance and Alcohol Use Disorders: Addiction to alcohol or drugs is a common behavioral health disorder. Managing a substance use disorder does NOT mean continuing to use substances. However, staying in recovery may include managing any related mental health issues that tend to trigger substance misuse.
  • Impulse Control Disorders: People with impulse control disorders struggle to resist urges that can be harmful to themselves or others. Kleptomania and compulsive gambling are impulse control disorders, also called process addictions.
  • Eating Disorders: Extreme behaviors, emotions, and attitudes about weight and food are the hallmark of eating disorders. The most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): People with PTSD struggle with lingering and frightening thoughts and memories after a traumatic event like a natural disaster, car accident, or physical or sexual assault. The intrusive memories can interfere with daily life and leave people feeling emotionally numb.
  • Neurodevelopmental Disorders: These disorders affect how the brain functions. More common in children, neurodevelopmental disorders can continue through adolescence into adulthood. Common examples are autism and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

How Many People Have Chronic Mental Health Challenges?

Chronic mental health challenges are widespread. According to a national survey conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, more than 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. (57.8 million) live with a mental illness.

Young adults are at increased risk. In fact, 34 percent of young people between the ages of 18 and 25 suffer from a mental illness. That’s compared to 28 percent of adults aged 25–49 and 15 percent of adults over 50. More females (27 percent) battle mental illness than males (18 percent).

As for serious mental illnesses like major depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia, they affect about 1 in 25 US adults, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Know the Facts

1 in 3 young adults have a mental health condition that may be chronic.

Living a Full Life with Chronic Mental Illness

Many believe that people with chronic mental illnesses are in institutions or holed up in dark bedrooms, unable to function in daily life. On the contrary, people with chronic mental illnesses can not only manage their conditions, but also live full, productive lives.

Recent research looked at the mental health conditions of 25,000 Canadians between the ages of 15 to 80 and older. They also looked at these individuals’ quality of life. Next, they calculated how many people with a lifetime history of mental illnesses met the criteria for “thriving.” (Thriving included such areas as social relationships, positive emotions, and daily functioning).

Results showed about 10 percent of participants with a history of mental illness met the thriving criteria, compared to about 24 percent without a history of mental illness. People with a history of substance use disorders and depression were more apt to thrive than those with a history of bipolar disorder or anxiety. However, the study also found that over time, about two-thirds of people with mental illness experienced substantial recovery from symptoms. In fact, they no longer met the diagnostic criteria for their illness.

10 Ways to Manage a Chronic Mental Health Condition

Chronic disease management requires commitment, and it can’t be done alone. Good mental health providers and physical health care are essential. With effective treatment and the proper support, people with mental health conditions can find meaning and happiness. Here are 10 ways to manage a chronic mental health condition.

1. Understand Your Condition

To manage a chronic mental illness, you need to know as much as possible about it. Research the symptoms, causes, risk factors, and treatments so you can communicate clearly with your healthcare team and make informed decisions. Knowledge is power. Understanding your illness is the first step to getting it under your control.

2. Create a Strong Support Network

It’s easy to feel all alone when living with a chronic mental illness, so building a strong support system is essential. A support system can be comprised of family, friends, and support groups, either in person or online. Having people you trust in your corner allows you to do things that might be hard to accomplish on your own. A support network can also provide accountability and encouragement when times get tough.

3. Reduce Stress

Because stress can worsen the symptoms of any chronic disease, it’s necessary to lower your stress levels. Spending time in nature, deep breathing, mindfulness meditation, yoga, or other forms of physical exercise are healthy ways to cope with stress.

4. Do Therapy

Talk therapy and somatic therapy (body-based approaches such as yoga therapy or EMDR) can help you understand your thought patterns and behaviors. Therapy can also help you develop healthy ways of managing your symptoms. Ongoing treatment from a trained mental health provider assists individuals with chronic mental illnesses to feel a greater sense of self-efficacy. It also enhances their overall quality of life.

5. Explore Medication

Medication such as antidepressants or mood stabilizers can play a useful role in managing chronic illnesses. Medication is often used in combination with talk therapy or brain stimulation therapies. Because medication affects people in different ways, it’s important to work with a mental health provider to create a treatment plan that supports your overall health. Additional support in the form of support groups, cognitive behavioral therapy, or social skills training may be necessary.

6. Limit Alcohol and Caffeine

People sometimes use alcohol to cope with anxiety and depression, but excessive drinking typically makes symptoms worse. Drinking caffeine close to bedtime can disturb the sleep/wake cycle, which is also detrimental to well-being. For people with depression or bipolar disorder, a consistent sleep schedule is important to prevent depressive or manic episodes. And limiting alcohol and caffeine intake helps keep mood and energy stable.

7. Focus on the Good Things

The challenges of living with a chronic mental illness can be draining. However, it’s still important to find ways to focus on what’s working in your life. Even shifting your language from the negative (what you “can’t” do) to the affirmative (what you “can” do) can help reframe your perspective on living with a chronic condition. Expressing gratitude, celebrating your accomplishments, and surrounding yourself with optimistic people are other ways to stay positive.

8. Practice Self-Compassion

It’s easy to fall into self-blame when you’re living with a chronic mental illness. Instead of comparing yourself to others and feeling inadequate, try treating yourself with acceptance. You might say, “I’m feeling lethargic today. It’s not reasonable to expect myself to go to the party when I’m this tired, and that’s okay.” The less pressure you put on yourself to be perfect, the easier it is to manage the ups and downs of your condition.

9. Identify What Gives You Meaning and Purpose

Knowing what gives your life meaning and purpose can be hugely helpful when managing a chronic mental health condition. Some people find a sense of meaning and purpose in their work. Others might find it through volunteering, religion, spirituality, family life, or an intimate relationship. Identify what enriches your life and invest your energy there.

10. Seek Joy

Living with a chronic mental illness can be debilitating at times. That means it’s even more important to find ways to experience joy. Whether you enjoy the beach, dancing, or watching your favorite show, make time to do what makes you happy. Don’t wait until you feel well before treating yourself to pleasure. Doing things you enjoy increases the likelihood of feeling better.

When to Get Additional Support

Mental health conditions don’t necessarily stay the same. They can fluctuate over time. If you experience changes in mood, physical health, or behavior, you may need additional support.

Examples of these types of changes are:

  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviors
  • Sudden sweating, increased heart rate, trouble breathing, or nausea
  • Noticeable changes in appetite and eating
  • Hallucinations
  • Withdrawal from family, friends, or activities you enjoy
  • Large gaps in memory
  • Disturbed sleep patterns; feeling fatigued no matter how much you sleep
  • Outbursts of anger, hostility, or violence

These symptoms may indicate the need for a higher level of care, such as residential or outpatient treatment.

Young Adult Treatment at Newport Institute

At Newport Institute, we understand the challenges young adults with chronic mental health conditions face. Our integrated approach gives young people practical tools to manage their mental health in a safe and supportive environment. Symptom management is just a piece of the puzzle. We also address the underlying issues that contribute to mental illness. 

Our clinical team is highly experienced at guiding young adults to heal from trauma and attachment wounds through a variety of clinical and experiential modalities. As they process childhood wounding, young adults expand their self-awareness. As they learn healthy coping skills, they have an easier time forming authentic connections with others. These newfound connections and coping skills help them regulate emotions, reframe negative thought patterns, and improve overall well-being.

Contact us today to find out more and schedule a free assessment. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What’s considered a chronic mental illness?
  • What are some examples of chronic mental illness?
  • When should I seek help for a chronic mental illness?
  • What are five ways to manage a chronic mental illness?
  • Do I have anxiety or am I just stressed?

Clinical Psychol Sci. 2022 Mar; 10 (5): 10.1177.

National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 2021.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Mental Health / July 18, 2023

Newport Institute

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