There are many different ways that people experiencing mental health problems can manage their own mental health. For example, they may practise spiritual activities, use peer support or eat or avoid certain foods. This is often called self-help or self-management.
Self-management has another, more specific, meaning when it describes the way that people can learn to control long-term health problems. Increasing numbers of people with a physical health problem use self-management to help them control their symptoms.
People with mental health problems can use a similar strategy to control serious mental health problems such as bi-polar disorder or schizophrenia. Through self-management, many people gain the confidence, skills and knowledge to better manage their mental health and gain more control of their lives at a time when they may feel they have lost control.
Self-management can have as positive an impact on mental health as medical treatment, enabling people to lead fuller, more active lives. Research has shown that it can help boost the self-esteem of people with bi-polar disorder and lower the risk that they will consider suicide.
How can people learn the skills for self-management?
Many people are using self-management without realising it, but formal self-management skills can be learnt on courses, usually run by people with direct experience of mental ill health. There is much demand for self-management training, but courses for mental health service users are not widely available and there are currently no courses for people with a diagnosis of schizophrenia.
MDF the Bipolar Organisation runs courses nationwide for people with bi-polar disorder. The courses are based on evidence of what works for people with bi-polar disorder and are delivered by accredited trainers who also have the illness.
The courses help people understand how their own mental health problems affect them and how to recognise the early signs and prevent or minimise the impact of an episode of ill health. They are based on the principle that individuals know best what works for them.
During their training, participants typically learn to:
- recognise what triggers a crisis in their own mental health
- read the warning signs of a possible crisis
- identify if any particular actions can prevent a crisis developing
- figure out which coping strategies work best for them in a crisis
- tap into other sources of support like local groups for people experiencing similar distress
- build ongoing coping strategies into a mentally healthy lifestyle
- compile an action plan
- draw up an advance directive setting out how they would like to be treated if they ever lack the capacity to make decisions about their treatment in the future.
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