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A mental illness doesn’t have to keep you from staying healthy

Staying healthy is an important part of recovery when you suffer from a mental illness like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and psychosis for example. What many of you don’t understand is that our physical well-being is as important as our mental health. Without feeling well physically, our mental health can deteriorate or vice versa, which is why the mind and body are connected as one. Not maintaining your physical health is an ongoing problem with people who have a mental illness.

Most of you who are reading this article have mental illnesses yourself and each of you have different issues you are facing, but there is hope to recover in ways that you never thought to imagine. In this article is some advice towards making a complete recovery.


Do stay with treatment

It is important to stay with your treatment when it comes with your mental health. Your psychiatrist and therapist are there to help you manage your emotions in case you suffer from a relapse and go back to the hospital. Taking psychiatric medications that are prescribed by your doctor may help relieve some of the symptoms you may be having such as hearing voices, delusions, racing thoughts, uncontrollable crying spells, etc.

If you experience any side effects, you should speak to your doctor before you decide to stop. Your therapist is not only their for you to understand your illness, but also dealing with problems on a living basis. For example, if your parents have died, you can become very emotional and be in a deep state of depression, however, your therapist will tell you that what you have been feeling was normal under the circumstances, and suggest that you attend a bereavement support group to see how others are coping. Seeing how others cope with situations is a great way to realize that some of the things you are feeling could be normal.

Do prevent obesity by healthy eating

Many of us take medications to treat our mental illnesses that makes us gain weight due to certain drugs like antipsychotics. There are a lot of people in your position. Gaining weight from the side effects of the drugs and from the symptoms of your mental illness is normal. In order to help with this, you can attend weight loss support groups and programs like Weight Watchers. I promise you that it really can help you lose weight or stay at a healthy weight while coping with your mental illness.

This is something you might not be able to imagine. You will start to eat healthier foods such as fruits and vegetables, lean meats and poultry, milk products and dairy, whole wheat foods that contain lots of fiber, etc. Many of you cannot afford the cost to attend programs like Weight Watchers of which can be discouraging, so when you see your primary care physician, they can give you a list of what foods are best for you to eat and a guide to good healthier eating habits and portion control. Once you do this, you can start seeing changes within your body and feel happier about yourself both physically and mentally.

Do exercise to help prevent obesity and reduces stress

You can’t expect to lose weight and get healthier just by eating less. You should developed a routine of exercising each morning once you wake up or after you get off work. It is hard to do and you might hate it, but after awhile you will look forward to it.

Exercising does more than help you lose the weight. It reduces stress and any frustrations you may have, which is good for your mental health. Most people go to a gym to exercise, but that can be expensive for those who are not working and not making enough income to support themselves. As always I am told, walking is the best exercise a person can do and this is something you do not have to spend money on. Also, doing some stretching and yoga exercises can help too. This relaxes those muscles that are tense. After a while, you will notice changes within your body and mind. You will feel more confident in yourself. As a result, when it comes to exercise, just say to yourself, “I can do it”, and you will.

Do go back to work

Working again is an important part of a person’s recovery from mental illness. It is good to do something productive with your life so you are not home alone feeling sorry for yourself. There are resources and mental health agencies that help people seek employment again. A few agencies that are good are clubhouses, supported employment, and pre-vocational programs. They can help you get a job to match your skills whether its full-time, part time, an internship or volunteer position.

Many of you might be on Social Security benefits, but there are work incentives that can help you keep a job and continue to receive money from Social Security. This should not stop you. If you want a job that may need more schooling and you can not afford it, then there are agencies that can send you for training without paying even one cent. For example there are governmentally funded programs in most cities that can recommend what programs would be most suitable for you in today’s competitive market. As a result, working again can give you more confidence and a better self-esteem to improve your mental health.

Do join a support group

A support group can be very beneficial to those who are struggling with mental illness. At a support group, you talk about issues that are affecting you from moving on with your life and how you can change that. It is important for people to socialize within their own community and get to know others who have similar problems and maybe develop future relationships with one another.

For families who have loved ones with mental illness, they can also join a support group. NAMI - National Alliance on Mental Illness has a variety of support groups for families in most cities. These groups help them find a way to cope with their loved one’s condition and how to communicate effectively with them. Also, support groups help overcome their own stigmas towards each other and learn that life with mental illness is not a bad thing, but a new chapter in someone’s life.


Do not stop taking your medications

Stopping your medications without your psychiatrist’s approval can be harmful to you. You can easily have a relapse and may not be prepared on how to handle the withdrawal effects and probably end up back in the hospital. For example, if you start to feel very agitated, numbed, irritable, hearing voices again, etc, all of these feelings will go away when you go back on medication. Getting back on medication can help you from preventing a future relapse. Consult with your doctor who might increased your dosages to calm you down and reduce your symptoms. Although the medications can make you drowsy and tired, you can not stop taking the medicines on your own without your doctor’s consent. It is a big mistake. If you have to take medications for life as part of your recovery, then so be it.

Do not smoke or drink

Although you may not have an addiction to smoking or drinking (alcoholic beverages), you have probably seen people smoke and drink too much. Smoking and drinking are bad habits because it can make your mental health much worse. If you are on psychiatric medications and continue to smoke and drink, it can cause a drug interaction that you would want to avoid. Not only it would look bad on your mental health, but your physical health as well. G-d forbid you could get cancer or become an alcoholic, chances are that your life span would be very short. Therefore, stop smoking and drinking and if you need a support group for you to quit smoking or drinking, then join one. This could be the first step to live your life longer.

Do not forget the risks of committing suicide

Suicide is a great tragedy for many loved ones and their families. People who have serious suicidal thoughts are a psychiatric emergency and need to prevent it from happening. There are many reasons why people with mental illness commit suicide. Those who have an addiction to substance abuse drugs such as heroin and opiates and cannot stop, people who feel socially isolated by their mental illnesses, people who have a history of childhood abuse, and those who play with firearms, etc.

The best way a loved one can stop a family member or friend from committing suicide is to call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. To reduce symptoms of attempting suicide is to have ongoing psychiatric treatment and take proper medications even if it means for life. However, you have probably heard of some medications like antidepressants that may increase the risk of suicide, but with the right kind of treatment from your psychiatrist, therapist, and support network could save your life.

Do not let others think you are violent

We have been hearing lately in the news is that the majority of people who commit violent acts are those with mental illness like the shooting that took place in an elementary school at Newtown, Connecticut. However this is not true. Not everyone with a mental illness is violent. Mental illness is a disease that has to be treated, and most who are treated do not commit violent acts, and having a temper does not mean you are a violent person either. The only time when a violent behavior appears to be more common is when there are other risk factors such as being a crime victim, history of physical abuse, addiction to drugs, etc.

However, most people with mental illness like yourself do recover and can manage their conditions and go on and lead happy, healthy, productive lives. The only way you can eliminate the misconceptions of violence and mental illness is by educating others and joining advocacy organizations. But don't think that just because you have a mental illness you are prone to violent acts, and even more so, don't let others think this either.

Do not get dehydrated

It can be very easy in the spring and summer months to get dehydrated, especially when you have a mental illness that is seasonal. Heat illnesses are much more common among people with mental illness due to their mouths getting more drier because of the medications they are taking. Here are several ways on how you can prevent dehydration:

  1. Drink more fluids (nonalcoholic) especially water, even if you have to drink more than six to eight glasses.
  2. Stay indoors if possible with the air-conditioner on. Those of you who cannot afford the money to spend on an air-conditioner at home, go to a shopping mall or library or any other cool place such as heat-relief shelters.
  3. Take a cool shower or bath.
  4. Cut down on exercise and limit it to just early morning and evening hours.

If you are still dehydrated after this, and continue to have heat exhaustion, call your doctor or go to the nearest emergency room where they can assist you better.

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As a result, staying healthy affects your mind and body. Having a mental illness makes it harder for anyone to have a healthier simple lifestyle, but they can with the right kind of treatment plan and ongoing support from their physicians, families, friends, etc.

More expert advice about Depression

Photo Credits: Happy by Flickr: Pusteblumenland; Check Man, Cross Man and Jump Man © ioannis kounadeas -

Linda Naomi Baron-KatzAuthor, Member of NAMI, Mental Illness Peer Group Leader

Linda Naomi Katz born on March 21,1969, by the name of Linda Naomi Baron, raised as a modern orthodox Jew, where mental illness became a factor throughout her life. It had started with her mother when she was in the fifth grade. Her mother had ...

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