Why is Recovering From Mental Illness So Difficult?

February 25, 2013 Natalie Jeanne Champagne

When you live with a mental illness, recovery can feel impossible. But it's not. Education, self-care and acceptance help those living with mental illness recover.

Let me preface this post by telling you that when you live with a mental illness you know why it's so hard. It can feel impossible. But have you ever sat down and really thought about it? Thinking about things, writing them down, can allow us to make sense of something that is often complicated and hard to understand.

Simplifying a Complicated Disease

I sort of hate thinking that mental illness is a disease. When I think of the word disease I think about physical ailments. Go ahead and call me out on this one, but it's what comes to mind and I cannot tell you otherwise. But mental illness is a disease. It is a disease that hurts, flips lives upside down, and recovery is difficult. Describing why it is so hard is equally difficult! This is why I will simplify it into five areas---for my benefit and for yours.

>The Diagnosis. When you think of defining moments in your life does the first time you were told you have a mental illness come to mind? If so, we reside in the same camp. When we are first diagnosed we are frightened. Recovery may seem impossible. This is difficult, to say the very least, and makes us wonder if a life full of promise exists.

>Medication. Ah, yes, the infamous bounty of psychiatric medications we suddenly need to try out. And it's not like trying on a new pair of jeans; we cannot slip them off so quickly. We need to wait months to see if they work. If they fit. Difficult? Yes, it certainly is.

>Educating Ourselves On Our Illness. This is often boring and difficult. When you are finding it hard to get through the day, when you are suddenly told you need to learn about your illness to recover from it, life gets pretty damn difficult!

>Practicing Self-Care. Your mental health care team and those who tell you they love you (even if you are kind of angry at them) explain that you need to organize your life--take care of it. Sure, you understand you should shower, but now you are told you need to sleep 'normally' and eat 'normally'--I've always had trouble figuring this one out. In my opinion, normal is a silly word.

Suddenly, your life seems even more difficult. You have to make changes--changing your lifestyle is hard--and changing it so drastically is harder still.

>Learning to Accept the Diagnosis. This is the most difficult part of recovering from mental illness. Suddenly--and it often feels quite sudden-- you have a Label. You Have a Mental Illness. It takes work, and it requires time, to separate yourself from the diagnosis. To understand that you are not your illness. You are still yourself and working to become a better self. A healthy self.

Embracing Mental Illness Recovery . . . As Much as You Can

Here is my point, and correct me if I am wrong, better yet add to the discussion: Recovering from mental illness is difficult. It is probably the hardest thing you will ever do. But in doing so, in making slow progress, you learn a heck of a lot about yourself and about life.

If we can recover from mental illness, if we can find ourselves along the journey, we can grasp on to the positive things we have learned: empathy, love for ourselves and for others, and the understanding that we can and will become well.

Hang in there--it's difficult but not without hope.

APA Reference
Jeanne, N. (2013, February 25). Why is Recovering From Mental Illness So Difficult?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 13 from

Author: Natalie Jeanne Champagne

Al Levin
June, 9 2016 at 1:45 pm

Recovering from mental illness IS difficult. It takes time AND it takes effort. I believe there is a high reoccurrence of depression because people do not make significant changes. Some people recover by time alone. Some may recover with support of medicines. However, I believe in a multi-pronged recovery which may look different for everybody. It may include a support group of friends/family, therapist, engaging in a hobby, mindfulness/meditation, journaling, support groups, etc. It takes time and effort to recover...and it is WELL worth the effort! I blog on depression, stigma, & suicide awareness/prevention at You can also find me on Twitter @allevin18. Thanks for your article!

October, 29 2014 at 4:13 am

My understanding that comes from the National Mental Health Standards is that Recovery is living a meaningful life with or without the symptoms of mental illness. Under that definition most people are in recovery and my own recovery journey is non-linear involving cycles of inevitable relapse. With recovery orientated services in the community I believe many people can live recovery orientated lives. In fact I believe my mental illness had helped me become more empathetic and compassionate to other people who are suffering. Developing a strong support network is important whether they be your family or family of choice is vitally important and as a community we need to support people who become socially isolated. I agree that recovery is hard work and sometimes we need to accept baby steps and small victories. In bad times it helps to hold onto hope, and I think peer workers can play a vital part in demonstrating that recovery is possible even without a 'cure'. Some of the things that make recovery much harder is discrimination, stigma, shame and blame. Sometimes medications have unpleasant side effects which is as other sad truth about living with mental illness, your meds might cause you to put on weight, shake, drool or become tired. Some people hate the medication and I support their right to make informed decissions about thief care. I accepted that I hada mental illness quite easily, but it took me nearly ten years to realise how big an effect it would have on my life and the lives of those I love. I don't think we have a grieving process from the losses that can come from living a life with mental illness.

Susan F
September, 25 2014 at 7:17 am

This is an old article but was reposted to FB so I hope that the replies are still checked. I have suffered from bipolar for over 20 yrs. Depression has been much worse than mania. It is extremely difficult to have hope when I do all of the things that I should (therapy, medication, self-help) and I only make a small amount of progress. I am not able to function and the intellectual level that I once could or take on the stress that that functional level required. I am not the same person I once was and will never again be that person. I am so tired of trying. Where do I find hope?

Chris Cardinal
December, 24 2013 at 4:49 am

The hardest part of my MI, is living up to the the demands of modern Christianty. God included. I feel I was created against my will.

March, 3 2013 at 2:13 pm

The five reasons pointed out why mental illness is so difficult to recover from are outstanding! That being said, I don't suffer from mental illness, I enjoy every minute of it! God Bless

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Natalie Jeanne Champagne
March, 4 2013 at 7:52 am

Hi, Ed:
Thank you so much for the positive feedback!
Natalie (currently exhausted:)

March, 2 2013 at 1:40 pm

How do you know it's not without hope? Is Michael J Fox going to get better? Are you sure?

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Natalie Jeanne Champagne
March, 4 2013 at 7:59 am

Yes, I am sure. But this is just my opinion. The quality of life for anyone diagnosed with a mental illness can be improved if they work at it. Re Michael J Fox he suffers with Parkinson which is different than mental illness but, of course, has an effect on mood. I cannot speak for that illness, though.
Thanks Siri

Dr Musli Ferati
March, 1 2013 at 11:15 pm

After reading this purposeful objection, I can say that process of recovering from mental health illness indicates as long and complex psychiatric approach. Beside your five exactly point, the recovery from mental disorder requires a satisfactory support from community as ameliorative psyco-social milieu where concrete psychiatric patient lives and works. To achieve this goal, it should undertaken a set of numerous psycho-social intervention, that have got crucial impact in functional promotion and affirmation, as well, on mental health care system. Psycho-educational supply indicates the primary place and role in community that make possible to haved a complete psychiatric management of mental illnesses. In this efficient activity would participate more social factors, amidst them governement, schooling institutions, socio-cultural activities...have got primary role. It goes without saying, that professionals of mental health care team have the main duty to manage the functional promotion of mental health service.

February, 26 2013 at 10:29 am

I've recently been diagnoses bipolar 2. It feels like I'll never be well enough to simply take care of the (should be) easy stuff in life. I'm exhausted. I'm hopeless. I just won't it to all end... Lithium makes me care just enough to keep getting out of bed every day. That's it though... I'm merely existing. This is NOT really living. Suicide was the one control factor I had. Thanks to lithium, I don't even have that anymore.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Natalie Jeanne Champagne
February, 27 2013 at 7:30 am

Hi, Melissa,
I also live with bipolar disorder type 2. You have recently been diagnosed so please remember that you will find stability. This time in your life is difficult but treatment exists and really works. Hang in there and check out the resources on When things get really hard for me it helps to reach out even if it is online.
Stay Strong I promise it will get better,

February, 26 2013 at 10:10 am

I thought after my 1st "severe deppressive" episode @ 20,that I was dying,had a brain tumor,and what did dr's mean I was depressed,that was just being down in the dumps,not being in the awful nightmare that had become my life!I was ill,w/some horrid bizarre disease I thought.Ha,well...Many months later I started to get "better" despite all the life shattering events that occured @ the same time this all was going on.After being certain this would never happen again to me,guess what?It did!This time phsych meds became the order of the day and have continued to be when things got bad again.Today I have been on them many years.Doing better or doing worse all flow on together now.I also have a grown daughter who started developing symptoms of OCD among other things.I was going to make sure she got the help she needed and she was going to get well!Ha on me again is all I will say.Niether of us has "recovered".It is a daily struggle.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Natalie Jeanne Champagne
February, 27 2013 at 7:32 am

Hi, Melanie:
It's weird how when we become stable we sort of forget we live with a chronic illness. It happens to me too and I've been living with it for over a decade. Each fall when I become depressed I am somehow surprised! But I think I would rather enjoy my good months without remembering that it does not stay that way. I still hope, as I become older, it levels out. Hope is a curious and important thing!
Thanks for the comment,

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