How to Live (and Thrive) with a Mental Illness

by | Jul 7, 2022 | Articles, General Mental Health, Wellbeing


Did you know: “More than 46 million Americans are living with a mental illness?” That’s nearly
one in five U.S. adults (19% of the population). [1]

So, what is mental illness?

“Mental Illnesses are brain-based conditions that affect thinking, emotions, and behaviors. Since
we all have brains – having some kind of mental health problem during your life is really
common.” [2]

How many are there? About 200 classified forms of mental illness (and counting) exist. Some of
the most common are: depression, bipolar disorder, dementia, schizophrenia and anxiety

“As with conditions like cancer, diabetes and heart disease, mental illnesses are often physical
as well as emotional and psychological. Mental illnesses may be caused by a reaction to
environmental stresses, genetic factors, biochemical imbalances, or a combination of these.” [2]

With proper care, individuals can recover and live vibrant, healthy, and meaningful lives (case in
point, my mental health journey with anxiety).

Through this article, I will explain how to successfully live and thrive with a mental illness,
through a combination of different strategies.



Understanding the Healthcare System

In order to receive affordable health care for things like doctors visits, emergency room visits
and medications, you’re going to need insurance. The level of access and cost will vary
depending on the plan you choose. [3]

The main insurance options in the United States are:

● Private Health Insurance
● Medicaid
● Medicare
● CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program)
● TRICARE and VA Health Care

For more in-depth details about each healthcare option, check out the following NAMI resource:
Types Of Health Insurance. It is a treasure trove of knowledge.

When choosing a plan, keep these points in mind:

Affordability: Be mindful of: premiums (monthly payments), deductibles (amount you must pay
before insurance kicks in), and copays (fixed fees for each service rendered). They will vary
substantially depending on your plan. Compare options to get the most value for your dollar.

Availability of mental health professionals: Make sure there are lots of mental health
professionals to choose from such as psychologists and psychiatrists.

HMO Vs. PPO: Make sure to understand the difference between HMO vs PPO. HMO is a
Health Maintenance Organization like Kaiser Permanente that has a network of providers to
choose from. PPO stands for Preferred Provider Organization and lets you choose from a
network of providers and pay extra to access out of network providers.

Prescription Coverage: If you decide you need medication, check to see how much each plan
will cover. Also, be sure to check out NAMI’s Guide Help Paying For Medication for resources
like discounts, coupons and non-profit assistance.



Navigating Romantic Relationships

Many people living with mental illness have questions about love and romance.

Mentally ill people wonder, can they have a relationship? Yes! The good news is that hundreds
of millions of mentally ill people around the world are participating in healthy, successful
relationships right now and billions that came before us did so too.

Another question is how do I reveal my illness? Try the sandwiching method, where you reveal
several pieces of “good news” alongside the “bad news” This technique can assuage people’s
fears. For example, as a precursor to revealing you have bipolar, you can discuss all the good
things about your relationship and what you like about this person.

Also, consider sharing books and literature on your specific mental illness to arm your partner
with knowledge. [3]

Pick a time when you’re calm/relaxed and not overtly symptomatic ie. depressed or manic. “You
may want to start with “process talk” to introduce the fact that you want to share something
difficult. (For example, “I want to tell you something important that I’ve been worrying about.
This is difficult for me to say, though. I hope you can listen and understand.”)
Be prepared for three possible outcomes of the conversation: understanding and support, an
end to the relationship, and curiosity/uncertainty. No matter what happens, trust you made the
right move.

Given what might happen, many people wonder should I reveal my illness at all? Yes! Healthy
relationships are built on openness and trust. If they really love you, they will have your back
through good times and bad. Plus, support from your partner is highly valuable and will help you
navigate any turbulent mental health waters. Not to mention, many times your partner will find
out sooner or later. It’s better to get things sorted out when the seas are calm.



Finding A Mental Health Provider(s)

Here’s your chance to find allies to support you. The main players and what they can do are as
follows: [6]

Psychiatrists: Trained in diagnosing mental health conditions and prescribing medication. There
are MD’s (medical doctors) and OD’s (osteopathic doctors which treat the body as a whole).
Often they specialize in a certain area like addiction medicine or adolescent care. Can provide a
degree of counseling depending on their background.

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners: If training permits, can prescribe medication. Can also diagnose
and treat mental illnesses depending on their background. Requires Master of Science or
Doctorate in Nursing.

Psychiatric Pharmacists: Specialize in mental health, are experts on psychiatric medication, and
can write prescriptions. Also, fluent in drug interactions. Many have completed additional
training in areas such as: child/adolescent psychiatry, substance abuse disorders or geriatric
psychiatry. Requires Doctorate of Pharmacy.

Psychologists: Typically hold a doctorate degree. There to provide counseling. “Some may have
training in specific forms of therapy like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior
therapy (DBT) and other behavioral therapy interventions.” Can diagnose and treat a variety of
mental health disorders. Typically can’t prescribe medication.

Counselors, Clinicians, Therapists: Can evaluate mental health and provide talk therapy.
Requires Masters Degree (MS or MA). Usually has a degree in Psychology or Marriage and
Family Studies. Can’t prescribe medication.

Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW): Depending on training, can provide testing,
diagnostics, and counseling. Can’t prescribe medication. Must have a master’s degree at
minimum. [7]



Five Factors To Consider When Seeking Treatment:

1. Do you need counseling, medication, or both? Some mental health providers can do
both, but many can’t though. So, if you’re like many people (including me) you’ll likely
need a therapist and a psychiatrist who can ideally communicate and share notes. Your
condition will help you decide who you need on your treatment team. For example, if you
have schizophrenia, you’re likely going to need medication and a specialist like a
psychiatrist to prescribe medications. Whereas, if you have trouble with social anxiety,
you’ll likely need the help of a therapist trained in CBT and other treatment modalities.

2. Coverage: your insurance will determine who you can and cannot see. Check with them
throughout the process.

3. Questions: You’ll want to ask plenty of questions. Helpful ones include: regardless of
their prestige/training,etc, do I feel comfortable with this person? Also, what is their
background and how much training do they have? Further, has this person treated
people with my condition before? If so, how many? What to expect from sessions? Can I
email or call this person? Can we meet over Zoom? How hard is it to get appointments?
What benefits can I expect to see? Can I see you on short notice? What is their
treatment approach and philosophy? What area, if any, did they specialize in?

4. You’re building a relationship: don’t be afraid to pass on a mental health professional. It’s
all about you and your needs. Afterall, you’re looking for someone to treat you for the
long haul. Trust is paramount!

5. Ask for referrals from their office from other patients.


Where To Look For Mental Health Professionals:

● Checkout NAMI (National Alliance On Mental Illness).
● Ask your insurance company for a list of covered providers.
● Ask your primary care doctor for recommendations.
● If possible, check out resources like and YELP for reviews.
● Ask for the help of friends and family.
● Check out professional societies for a list of providers such as: the American
Psychological Society (APA), the American Medical Association, and the American
Psychiatric Association.



Forming A Support Network

Feeling alone? Try building a support network. Start by enlisting the support of your friends and
family. [5]

And then when you’re ready, reach out to local support groups, where you can find people who
understand what you’re going through because they’ve been through it too. People in these
groups often have specific, comprehensive, and actionable advice like what to do in a crisis,
navigating insurance, and gaining SSDI and SSI government assistance.

I have personal experience with various anxiety groups around the SF Bay Area, which have
been invaluable resources. Through them, I received support, made friends, and learned tips
and tricks for managing my anxiety.


Taking Care Of Your Body

There’s a saying: take care of the body and the body will take care of you.

First and foremost, this means managing stress, which exacerbates virtually all mental illnesses
and in some cases can trigger full blown episodes for people with mood or psychosis based
disorders. [3]

Ways to reduce stress include: meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, getting good sleep,
daily social interaction, setting time aside for yourself to indulge and have fun, and all forms of
exercise such as: running, soccer, yoga, and tai chi.

Part of taking care of your body means also eating a healthy diet which stabilizes mental health.
Make sure to avoid the following all or most of the time: added sugars, processed (junk) foods
like fried chicken and pizza, unhealthy oils (sunflower, canola), and meat with antibiotics and
growth hormones.

Endeavor to “eat the rainbow,” which means getting plenty of fruits and vegetables of different
colors. Also, incorporate plenty of seeds, nuts, and grass fed meat in your diet. For best results,
pick a diet/way of eating and stick to it. I have celiac disease so the Paleo diet works well for
me. The Mediterranean diet is another super popular route.

Also, in my experience supplements can help with optimal functioning. I regularly take the
following: fish oil, magnesium glycinate, Ashwagandha, chamomile, CBD, and lemon balm.



Journaling For Mental Health

Looking for a strategy that packs a punch? Try journaling. I have a special journal dedicated to
my mental health journey, which serves many functions including: [4]

● Documents past experiences.
● Lists medications I’ve been on + the effects (good and bad).
● Provides a list of mental health professionals I’ve seen + their recommendations.
● Contains mental health goals and a short/long term plan of action.
● Outlines my insurance plan and any questions I have.
● Elucidates where improvement is needed.
● Helps identify triggers that make my condition worse.

● Lists what I’m grateful for.
● Tracks mental health patterns.


Wrapping It All Up

Mental health is a journey to wellness. It takes time to learn how to thrive. But, with patience and
some simple strategies to help move forward, progress and success will happen. I am living

Strategies I mentioned in this article include: understanding the healthcare system, navigating
romantic relationships, how to find a mental health professional, forming a support network,
taking care of your body, and journaling.

My question for you: what strategies help you live and thrive with mental illness?



Over and Out,
Timothy Salisbury

Timothy Salisbury is a freelance writer. In his spare time, he enjoys blogging and making electronic and hip hop music. He has personal experience with anxiety and brings his exuberance for mental health to the Breaking Taboo team.







Resources [1] [2] [3] [4] [5]
providers/art-20045530 [6] [7]

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