We use cookies to help you find the right information on mental health on our website. If you continue to use this site, you consent to our use of cookies.

Recovering from a mental illness

Family and the community have a huge role to play in supporting people who are recovering from mental illness.

What is recovery?

Though recovery for both mental and physical illness are defined in the same manner, the challenges faced by people recovering from mental illnesses are many.

In general, recovery from physical or mental illness is defined as a process of healing and change that enables individuals to regain their physical and mental health and wellness so they can resume their life activities as before.1

The biggest hindrance to recovery is stigma. Often, people with mental health issues fear that they will be ridiculed, discriminated against, or socially isolated. This causes them to not share their problems during the early stages of the illness or seek help from professionals. It is only when the symptoms become severe enough to affect their daily functioning, that they share their problems and seek treatment.

Despite these barriers, the first step towards recovery is identifying that there is a problem and deciding to seek help. This decision rekindles the hope of recovering from the illness and leading a functional and self-directed life.

Recovery is a holistic process. Along with regular medical treatment, therapy, and medication, other aspects such as emotional support of family and friends, and social inclusion go a long way in helping the person make a faster and better recovery.

We also need to remember that each individual is unique and has distinct strengths, culture, preferences, mindset, and coping abilities. Hence, each individual has their own perception about recovery and their unique capacity to manage their own life. Depending on all these factors, the recovery process and the time of recovery varies for each individual.

For people with chronic illness, recovery means accepting the situation, coping with the condition, and learning to live a meaningful life despite the limitations.

Important:Every human being wants to be loved and respected. A person with mental illness also yearns for love and care during the course of recovery. Hence, emotional healing is as important as recovery.

People with serious mental illnesses want the same things from life that everyone else wants: meaningful relationships, a safe place to live, satisfying activities, job satisfaction, adequate income, and an enjoyable social life. Yet, for many people with serious mental illness, these everyday pursuits are not easily within reach. This remains true today, despite research indicating that recovery and a satisfying life are possible. There are many reasons for this including stigma, social exclusion, and failure of treatment systems to provide needed services.” -American Psychiatric Association

What are the challenges of recovery?

Although we know that appropriate treatment aids recovery, a person with mental illness has quite a few challenges during the course of their recovery. Most importantly, the illness itself poses a big challenge because of society's misconceptions and distorted beliefs. Social stigma and discrimination can hurt a person's emotions and isolate them from the community. This often has a ripple effect and can cause further deterioration in the health of the patient.

Lack of knowledge among the patients, their families, and sometimes even health practitioners is another barrier. Families are often unable to differentiate between symptoms caused by the illness and behavior that results from the patient’s emotional upheaval. This often hinders recovery and the effect can be quite traumatizing for the patient.

How can the community help people recover from their mental illness?

A person who is recovering from a mental illness can greatly benefit from the support of their family, friends and community.is like any other physical illness and anyone can be affected. Unfortunately, due to our ignorance and misconceptions about mental health, we deliberately hurt the emotions of patients and label them as incapacitated and discriminate against them. Due to this reason, people hesitate to seek help even if they want to. During the course of the illness, many people lose their family, friends, custody of children, property, privacy and legal rights. Hence, as a community we ought to help people with mental illness regain or maintain their social rights, identity and dignity. This greatly helps a person recover from mental illness or manage a chronic mental illness and lead a functional life.

In an interview with White Swan Foundation, Norman Sartorius, psychiatrist and former director of World Health Organization said, “I think that the greatest hurdle in providing people with mental illnesses with appropriate care and making them live in a community is stigmatization. People who have mental illnesses carry stigma. Their illness marks them in a way that makes people shy away from them or be afraid of them, see them as being dangerous, or not  being human. This attitude makes everything that we want to do for them extremely difficult. So unless one can change the image of a mentally ill person and also change the image of the life that they lead, it is very difficult to make any progress.”

How can I help someone recover from their mental illness?

A person with mental illness yearns for love and emotional support and also looks for someone who believes in them. As a friend or a family member, you can certainly help your loved one in their recovery process. It may need a lot of patience, empathy, compassion, and a willingness to be there for the person when they are in need.

You can:

  • Be there for them when they need help.
  • Listen to them without being judgmental. Just allow them to share their deepest feelings and emotions. Talking and sharing one's feelings is a form of therapy by itself.
  • Accompany them during their visit to the doctor. Check and encourage them to take their medication (if any) or go for treatment or therapy sessions regularly.
  • Help them manage their daily tasks and encourage them to continue with their work. Help them find ways to keep themselves busy with some constructive activity.
  • Spend time with them or take them out for a walk. Whenever possible, take them to any social gathering or event so that they can communicate with others and maintain social relationships.
  • Offer them hope and support so that they can believe in themselves and recover from their illness.


1SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration)