Life after mental health rehab takes effort
Going to mental health rehab can be both challenging and deeply rewarding. When mental illness is at its worst, everyday life can seem overwhelming. Reality can be distorted, so sometimes people in treatment or family members have understandable fears about what post-rehab life will be like. However, with preparation and focus, there are ways for you or your loved one to navigate the transition and re-engage in life successfully and joyfully. Here are some tips for making the most of life after mental health rehab.
Life After Rehab Tip #1: What will my living situation be?
What life will look like after mental health rehab depends on what the living situation will be, and that decision should be based on individual factors that best suit your personal needs. There is a wide range of housing possibilities, ranging from arrangements that involve round-the-clock care to fully independent living.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness notes that choosing the right type of housing, based on what type of assistance you need with things like cleaning, paying bills, or making appointments, can help you focus on what’s most crucial: your recovery. Agencies may vary slightly in the terms they use for various housing situations, but options include the following:
- Group housing (often called group homes) – In fully supervised group housing, staff members are available at all times to provide needed assistance. This can include help with medication, meals, transportation, and more. The homes generally provide residents with a mix of personal and shared living space. Partially supervised group housing facilities are similar, but the staff is only there during certain hours. When staff members aren’t present, residents can call for help if they need it.
- Supportive housing – In supportive (sometimes called supported) housing situations, affordable, mostly independent housing is paired with coordinated services. Details vary, but it’s common for residents to pay 30 percent or less of their income for rent and have the lease in their own names. Residents aren’t required to accept help, but service providers may check on them to determine if there are needs they can help meet. Mental health professionals and case managers are among the potential service providers who may be involved.
- Living with family members – whether a person with a significant mental illness history should live at home with family members can sometimes be a complicated decision. Factors to consider include those related to the patient, such as level of functionality and compliance with treatment, and those related to the family environment, such as whether interpersonal interactions are relaxed and whether other family members, especially young children, may be negatively affected. Addressing family dynamics can be an important part of life after mental health rehab, and research shows that interventions that involve family members are effective in promoting mental health wellness and lowering the illness relapse rate.
Tip #2: Stick to a daily schedule and routine.
It’s helpful for the return to daily life to be similar to what worked during mental health treatment. This generally means developing a schedule and sticking to it as much as possible. In a group home, staff members will generally help residents maintain a routine that includes regular mealtimes, bedtimes and times for taking medications. If you or your loved one live independently, you may want to print out a schedule or set alarms to serve as memory prompts. If necessary, someone can call every day at a specific time to give needed reminders about essential activities.
The routine you follow at home doesn’t need to be the same as what you followed during treatment. You may want to slightly vary mealtimes and bedtime, for instance, to match your personal biological rhythms better. It’s important, though, to make sure you’re getting adequate rest and nutrition, and having a regular schedule that doesn’t vary much from day to day can be a critical factor in meeting that goal.
Maintaining the prescribed dosing schedule for taking medications is especially important since problems can arise if levels in your body dip too low or climb too high. It’s easy to forget or decide not to take your meds when you’re feeling stable, but if you’ve been prescribed medication, it’s because your practitioners believe that’s what you need to maintain the stability you’ve achieved. You may not need the same medications in the same dosages in the future, but altering dosages or quitting without input from a doctor has proven to be a relapse trigger for many people.
Tip #3: Build on what you learned in rehab.
You may have learned or improved your skills in areas like stress reduction, communication, problem-solving, and anger management. Now’s the time to put the lessons into practice. All skills take time to fully perfect, so be patient with yourself, but keep working on turning new practices into habits that will improve your life.
Stress reduction activities may include exercise, meditation, journaling, and focused breathing. Adding them to your personal schedule and routine after treatment is an excellent idea. It’s also smart to be proactive about doing healthy things that bring you peace and joy, such as drawing, listening to music, or getting out in nature.
When choosing relaxing activities, be aware that what you feed your mind is every bit as important as what you feed your body. You might want to choose to watch a sit-com or a funny cat video rather than a dramatic television show or movie. You may also want to choose music with uplifting lyrics. There’s a place for more serious fare, but especially when trying to maintain stability after rehab, filling your mind with positive messages is very wise.
Whether or not you have a mental health disorder, focusing on gratitude, either through mindfulness or by taking time to write out a list of things you’re grateful for, can help you begin to build on the positives in your life and view the world through a different lens. Research shows that writing even just a few sentences every week can help people feel more optimistic and content. The items on your list don’t need to be earth-shattering. You can simply focus on being thankful for things like having clothes to wear and food to eat or for receiving a text from a friend.
Tip #4: Continue to evolve with your therapy sessions.
Be an active participant in therapy sessions and treat each one as an opportunity for someone with training and experience to help you discern what’s working for you and what needs to be tweaked or modified. A review published in the Journal of Public Health (JPH) found that the number of treatment sessions was positively associated with recovery success and was especially important for people with co-occurring disorders. The nature of the relationship between therapist and client had a more significant effect on outcomes than the specific type of treatment did, but cognitive behavioral therapy proved to be helpful for many people.
Tip #5: Find your social support tribe
Maintain social contact with friends, family members, or others in recovery. The JPH review concluded that social support and function were very important predictors of positive treatment outcomes. When barriers to social engagement were addressed, through things like transportation, flexible scheduling, and childcare, results improved. Even online or phone-based social interaction can be very helpful.
Tip #6: Celebrate your successes!
You are amazing! The recovery progress can have its ups and downs, so finding a way to monitor and be encouraged by your victories is important. Perhaps you can make a chart of goals and objectives or a checklist of activities you’d like to complete in a day or week. If you aren’t able to check everything off the list, then rejoice in the ones you did manage to accomplish and let the unchecked tasks serve as a reminder of things you’d like to do differently in order to meet your goals.
If you find that there are specific tasks that you consistently leave undone, maybe you can find a different way to meet your objective. If you want to exercise, for example, but find that you don’t take walks as often as you plan, perhaps you can try swimming or tennis. Maybe you tried a bowling league for social interaction, but wonder if a book club might be a better fit. Keep your goals in mind and give yourself permission to experiment a little until you find the best way to meet them.
Tip #7: Accept feedback with love and understanding.
Trust the perspective of others and be willing to make the changes they suggest. As important as it is to monitor our own progress and challenges, it’s hard for us to be objective about ourselves, especially when our brains aren’t working optimally.
Maintaining close relationships with your therapist, family, caseworker, and support group members is important for multiple reasons, one of which is that they can sometimes help you see things you can’t easily see yourself. If those around you think it’s time to change your recovery plan, it’s wise to listen to them. They’re on your team during and after mental health rehab.
If the plan needs to be altered, it may involve an increase in the frequency of outpatient therapy sessions or a change in medication. It may also mean a return to more intensive inpatient treatment. It’s tempting to think of a return to a residential program as starting over, but it’s actually building on what you and your practitioners have already learned.
People with physical health disorders like heart disease or diabetes have to monitor their progress and modify treatment when necessary, which sometimes means a return to a hospital or clinic setting. Mental health conditions are no different. Whatever your needs, we’re on your side. We want to see you succeed, and we’re ready to help you do it.