How to Prevent A Mental Health Relapse

Mental health recovery is not a linear process, and it is full of ups and downs. Therefore, a relapse doesn’t necessarily mean a person is back at square one. However, not addressing the issue and letting things just “play out” might in fact put them there. The person might experience what is called an extinction burst. 

That is when the issues become more and more current, and the person gives in little by little. A momentary symptom can affect someone more than they know. That is why no sign is too small, and every problem should be addressed.

What Is Mental Health Relapse?

Relapse is characterized by the display of acute symptoms of a mental disorder that was previously diagnosed. This means that intervention and treatment will most likely be needed, even if not in the same way as before. 

Each person experiences relapse differently, but for everyone, it is a gradual process rather than a single event and moment. But if lingering, negative feelings take place for longer than two weeks, that might be a sign of possible relapse. 

Anxiety relapse and depression relapse, for instance, will trigger different symptoms and feelings, because they’re completely different disorders. In order to really know if something is up, one needs to know more about their illness and their symptoms.

Early Signs of Mental Health Relapse

There are possible early signs of mental health relapse that are common to multiple disorders. As mentioned, relapse is not a single event, and before things get too serious, there are many red flags to look out for. From subtle ones to clear signs, some of them are:

  • Experiencing changes in mood and sense of humor
  • Getting more tense, nervous, irritable, agitated, and even hostile more easily
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Self-isolating or social withdrawal, not engaging in outside activities or social relationships
  • Engaging in risky or life-threatening behavior, even getting into legal or financial trouble
  • Neglecting any level of self-care, from personal hygiene to taking medication needed
  • Changes in eating and/or sleeping habits (either too much or too little)
  • Saying, thinking, or doing irrational, confusing, and/or inappropriate things often
  • Having sensory hallucinations, seeing or hearing things other people don’t
  • Holding on to delusions and/or false beliefs even after they’ve been proven wrong

Some slighter signs, like changes in humor, might be common to changes in medication and such. A few of them can be side effects of medication or treatment. This could be temporary or might require a change in medication and dosage. However, if the person experiences multiple signs recurrently, that can be a cause for concern. Especially if there have not been any major changes regarding treatment recently.

Common Causes of Mental Health Relapse

Cause of mental health relapse, also called triggers, vary greatly, and fall under different categories. More specific triggers might be personal and related to personal experience. These tend to be emotional triggers, acting first on emotions and thoughts.

Other triggers might be physical, and are related to things one can literally feel. It also can be caused by chemical or nervous imbalances. These, in turn, generate physical symptoms that might lead to a full-on relapse. 

In general, the most common cause of mental health relapse have something to do with:

  • Not taking medication as prescribed, taking increased or decreased doses
  • Lack of knowledge of mental disorder or its symptoms of relapse in particular
  • Drug and/or alcohol substance abuse
  • Erratic or irregular sleeping cycles, either as insomnia or restlessness
  • Being under a lot of stress and feeling overwhelmed (burnout is a big issue)
  • Not having a support system to rely on or social relationships
  • Experiencing stigma due to disorder and/or its symptoms
  • Poor physical health and/or physical health issues
  • Conflicts in personal relationships
  • Major life changes (breakup, divorce, death of a loved one, etc.)

Many of them are impossible to avoid, as they are not under anyone’s control. The goal should be to avoid what you can control and to deal with what you can’t in the best way possible. For instance: not take up drinking after the loss of a loved one, but rather, talk to a therapist. And that is exactly where counseling and therapy for relapse prevention come in handy.

How To Avoid Mental Health Relapse

Relapse prevention includes many steps, some of which are short-term while others might be long-term. The first thing to understand is that relapse happens often, and though it is worrisome, it can be addressed. Still, relapse is more common among some disorders than others.

Schizophrenia, for instance, is marked by constant relapses with traces of psychosis. About 40% of patients experience a relapse in the first year after hospital admission. Signs of schizophrenia relapse should not be taken lightly, as it is considered a severe mental disorder. 

Depression relapses become more common depending on the intensity of the episodes. For people with depressive disorders, there’s a 50% chance of relapse after full remission for those who experienced one episode. That number increases to 70% for those that went through two episodes, and 90% for people that experienced three or more. 

There are, however, a few ways to avoid mental health relapse that works for all disorders. We mentioned avoiding toxic coping mechanisms such as drinking or using drugs. But what are the other ways to prevent mental health relapse?

Learn healthy ways to cope and to help manage symptoms

Licensed professionals can show patients healthy coping mechanisms for symptoms and triggers of mental disorders. Daily issues, like stress, become more and more tiresome to deal with. So having daily habits of relaxation, disconnecting after work, or having healthy hobbies like yoga or meditation might help lessen its effects.

Follow the treatment plan and goals designed

Ideally, you should have a treatment plan once you are done treating acute symptoms of a disorder. You must follow the plan you developed with your caretakers, and follow up with them as often as they recommend. In the case of medications prescribed, not following the instructions can lead to either another episode or substance abuse. Attending therapy sessions as recommended is also vital to stay on track and catch signs of mental health relapse early on.

Look for professional help as soon as possible

Contacting a mental health professional once mental health relapse signs are noticed allows for an early, precise course of action. This should also be done in the case of new symptoms that could be linked to a disorder. Some people might develop another disorder with time, such as an eating disorder or OCD.

Learn about your disorder and about recovery

Knowing about your disorder and the recovery process for it can help you spot signs of mental health relapse early on. You can learn by talking to professionals, reading books, attending seminars, or networking both in-person and online. This will make you understand yourself better and how your disorder affects you. That way, you can find out what worked for other people and what to avoid as well. 

Have a reliable support system and stick to positive people

Recovery requires support from loved ones who you can count on. While they cannot do the work for you, they can help you stay on track and hold you accountable. At the same time, you must figure out who you can’t count on, and cut them out if possible. Attending support groups and meetings is a great way to meet people who know what you’re going through and how to help.

Keep following your goals - but be adaptable, too

A relapse is nothing but a setback to your plans. If you experience it, it doesn’t mean you cannot keep going as you were. If it’s easier, set smaller attainable milestones as well. This will make it easier to see that you’re progressing, keeping up morale. But you should have a back-up plan in case things go wrong. Sometimes, plans do fall apart – but they just need to be adapted to your current reality. There are many ways to get to the same end goal.

Recognize your triggers and avoid them

If your past lifestyle triggered your mental disorder, that means you need to make changes to avoid mental health relapses. You need to find out what these triggers were and stay away from them. Most of them can be “discovered” through therapy, and with time, you’ll recognize more.

Find new hobbies and activities

Part of the changes you will have to make in your life has to do with what you do in your spare time. Hobbies and activities will dictate where you socialize, with whom, and what you are in contact with. You could take the opportunity to learn new skills, sports, or join a new group in your community. Taking classes, joining a club, volunteering – anything counts, as long as it doesn’t affect your treatment plan.

Get Mental Health Relapse Treatment at Renewal Behavioral Health

Relapsing is not a life sentence, and it should not discourage you to keep working on your mental health. They are very common and even expected, as recovery tends to have its bumps in the road. All you need is to address your symptoms with a supportive, trained team of licensed professionals. And we at Renewal Behavioral Health can give you all the tools and strategies needed to overcome relapse.

If you or a loved one have shown signs of mental health relapse or experienced it, contact us today. We can answer any questions you might have and provide the information you need on how to proceed. Our treatment methods were designed to help everyone, and we can come up with a plan just for you. Do not let relapse get you down and back to square one – get the help you need today.