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woman looking thoughtful during a therapy session

6 Things to Do When You Have a Mental Health Setback

Reading time | 4 mins

When you live with mental illness there will be times when you experience a setback. These setbacks can occur when you least expect it, which can make them even harder to deal with.

I’m sure, like me, many of you have been there. The one moment you’re feeling fine, but then something would happen and it just pushes you over the edge. Before you know it, it feels as if the whole world comes crashing down around you.

All those thoughts you have fought to keep out of your mind are back and no matter what you do, you cannot push them away. They eat away at you, until you feel like you’re back at square one.

So how do you deal with it?

Talk to someone

The first thing I recommend is to open up to your loved ones. It can be dangerous to suffer in silence, so reach out to your support network. Even if you feel like you’re saying the silliest things, the people who love you will try to understand.

If you find it hard to express how you feel in words, then write it down on paper. Either way, explaining how you feel will help those around you know how to assist you. It will also help you remember that you aren’t alone.

You might just find that people surprise you in how they come together to support you when times are tough.

Seek professional help

Talking to your nearest and dearest is a great first step, and is useful for getting them on board for the rest of your journey.

That said, your loved ones cannot support you in the same way a professional can. If you don’t already have a healthcare team that you can reach out to, then your next step would be to see your doctor.

They will be able to refer you to the correct services who will be able to offer you more support.

It’s also worth noting that in the UK and Europe there are many national and local organisations that have helplines you can call in a crisis. You can phone these at any time of the day or night, and talk to a professional who will be able to offer a safe space to talk. This is a useful resource to turn to when the need is pressing and outside of your doctor’s normal practice hours. They will be able to suggest the best course of action, and even send people out if they believe you are in crisis.

Try and try again   

Once you have sought professional advice, you will likely be given a treatment plan to help you manage your symptoms. Sometimes this might include therapies you have tried before, as well as a medication review.

While some of the ideas may be completely new, it’s also worth remembering not to be afraid to retry things. After all, you’ll likely be in a different stage of your mental health journey and might be surprised when something that didn’t help before might help now.

Don’t be afraid to say “no”

While it’s worth giving both new and old things a try, there may be things that you categorically know aren’t for you.

For me, I know that things like ‘relaxation therapy’ drive me crazy. If I’m meditating and am told to tense and let it all go, all that tension just ends up building within me. Also, the idea of picturing a waterfall or a beach just isn’t for me!

Remember that you know yourself best. So if you’re certain that something is going to potentially make your symptoms worse, speak up about it and let your doctor or loved one know why.

Be ready to be surprised

Ever since my early 20s I’ve had a habit of refusing to take pain relief – even with the chronic pain I experience. I’d never really understood why I wouldn’t accept something that was potentially going to help me, and always found myself trying to explain this at medical assessments.

It wasn’t until I had a phone assessment recently where the therapist remarked, “So your unwillingness to take pain meds is a coping strategy and way to keep yourself safe, right?”

This realisation instantly calmed me down. I phoned my parents and partner straight away and they all admitted it made sense. But like me, they’d never put two and two together to make four. Answers might come to you at any stage of your mental health journey. Be prepared to really hear them when they do. 

Allow yourself to be proud

Remember that each and every step you have taken is something to be proud of.

You might be feeling very low, or worthless or scared or all of them combined. But realise that every step you’ve taken to manage your symptoms and keep yourself safe is a step in the right direction. This in itself, is incredible. I hope that when you go through a tough time, you will remember this, and that it will help you to keep perspective.

NPS-IE-NP-00442 June 2022