Self-management of mental ill-health

Self-management is about the methods, skills, and strategies we use to effectively manage our own activities towards achieving certain objectives.

For those of us who live with long-term mental health conditions, this means concentrating on interventions and developing training and skills to take care of - and gain direct control over - our lives.

Many people with physical health problems already use self-management to help them control their symptoms but the technique has proven to work as a strategy to control things such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. 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.

Self-management courses

Our self-management courses focus on setting goals (eg lose two stone have a good night's sleep take their first train ride learn to read get back to work live independently) and getting people working together to try to overcome the problems that will stop them achieving those goals.

We also teach the group to support each other and encourage them to share their goals. The resulting 'peer support' group enables people to get help and encouragement when they need it from friends or people who have had similar experiences, rather than think about help as something that can only come from mental health professionals. The group also learns to form constructive, mutually beneficial relationships - an essential skill for personal development and community integration.

It's incredibly inspiring to see people go on from one of our courses to have the life they want. We often hear that training with us has been the first time that someone has been asked what they want to achieve with their life. Previously they've been told what they can't do. We've asked them to think about what they can do and they've amazed us with their achievements.

How do self-management courses work?

Taking a self-management course helps you understand how your own mental health problems affect your life and how to recognise the early signs and prevent or minimise the impact of an episode of ill health.

They're based on the principle that you know what works best for yourself - better than anyone else. During a self-management training course, you'll typically learn to:

  • recognise what triggers a crisis in your 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 you in a crisis 
  • tap into other sources of support like local groups for people like you experiencing distress 
  • build ongoing coping strategies into a mentally healthy lifestyle 
  • compile an action plan 
  • draw up an advance directive setting out how you'd like to be treated if you ever lack the capacity to make decisions about treatment in the future.

Our work with self-management

From 2009 to 2012, we developed a range of self-management interventions for people with severe psychiatric diagnoses. We ran 60 courses at venues across Wales and reached hundreds people with a range of diagnoses including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and personality disorders. This was the first initiative of its kind, on a scale not seen within the UK. We have also facilitated courses in Lambeth and Southwark.

Getting help


Rethink Mental Illness run an advice and information line, open Monday to Friday from 10am-2pm, offering advice on different types of therapy and medication; benefits, debt, money issues; police, courts, prison and your rights under the Mental Health Act.

Call 0300 5000 927 (local rates/mobile charges vary)


Mind offer an information line to answer questions about types of mental health problems; where to get help; drug and alternative treatments and advocacy. They also offer a legal advice service where you can talk to someone about mental health, mental capacity,community care, human rights and discrimination/equality related to mental health issues.

Infoline: Call 0300 123 3393 (local rates/mobile charges vary)
Legal advice service: Call 0300 466 6463 (local rates/mobile charges vary)
Email: [email protected]

Your local doctor

Your doctor (GP) may be the first person you talk to about your mental health problems. If you're unhappy with your own doctor, you can ask to see another doctor at the same practice or make an appointment with a different practice in your area.

Find out more about getting help for yourself, a friend or a family member.