Recovery from a mental health challenge is possible: Self-care

Practicing self-care is a great first step for individuals experiencing a mental health challenge.

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This article is part of a series on recovery from mental health challenges. For more information on strategies to support recovery, view the article titled, "Recovery from a mental health challenge is possible: Treatment."


Mental health challenges are common. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that one in two U.S. adults will be diagnosed with a mental health or substance use disorder at some point in their lifetime. If you start noticing changes in your thoughts, feelings or behaviors, this might be an indication that a mental health challenge is developing. Some common signs and symptoms that can appear include, having trouble concentrating, feeling sad or tired, or no longer doing things you love to do. If you are experiencing these or other symptoms, it is important to know that recovery from a mental health challenge is possible.

Two of the most common mental health conditions are anxiety and depression, both of which are treatable. Effective treatments are also available for people living with severe mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Substance use disorders can also be overcome. According to the Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health, about half of individuals once diagnosed with a substance use disorder have been sober for a year or more. In addition to treatment options, individuals living with mental health challenges can also use self-help and other strategies to manage their condition and lead productive lives.

Mental Health America offers the following ideas to prevent and manage mental health conditions: work toward goals; care for yourself; and strengthen your connections to yourself, others, and your community. Such strategies to improve one’s own mental health all fall under the category of self-care. According to Mental Health First Aid USA, self-care involves “activities and practices that you can engage in on a regular basis to reduce stress and maintain your short- and long-term health and wellbeing.”

The key points to remember when picking self-care activities are to:

  • Choose things that you enjoy. These could include hobbies, exercise, relaxation activities, participating in community or faith groups, volunteering and more.
  • Avoid stressful activities that might negatively impact your social, physical or financial wellbeing.
  • Pick just one or two activities to start. Explore Michigan State University Extension’s health and wellness classes for ideas.
  • Ensure that you can do what you decide on regularly, such as every other day or every week.

Practicing self-care often is a successful way to prevent or recover from mental health challenges. It is important to note that self-care by itself may not always be enough. Self-care plans may be used in combination with other strategies such as therapy and treatment from a mental health professional. 

If you or someone you know needs immediate mental health-related attention, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text the Crisis Text Line (741-741) with the word HOME. If you think someone is in immediate danger to themselves or others, please call 911 and ask for first responders trained in mental health crises.

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