Self-management of mental ill-health

For those of us with long-term mental health conditions, self-management can help us develop the skills to take care of ourselves and gain control of our lives.

Many people with physical health problems already use self-management to help with their symptoms, but it has been proven to improve the lives of people with mental health conditions too.

What is self-management?

Self-management courses can help you better understand your mental health condition and think about what helps you to stay well. They can also help you plan ahead for times when you’re unwell or in a crisis. They’re often designed and/or delivered by people with lived experience of mental ill-health.

Courses usually include:

  • information about your condition and ways to treat it
  • ways to recognise early warning signs of a relapse
  • coping skills to deal with your symptoms

They can also help you feel more assertive when asking mental health services for the support you need.

Courses are free and provided by the NHS as well as other groups and organisations. Some are in-person, while others are online - either through live video call or online videos you can work through at your own pace.

As well as courses, self-management can include webinars, health and wellbeing plans you can complete yourself (such as this one) or wellness recovery action plans (WRAPS). Our recovery page has more about WRAPS.

Is self-management right for me?

Courses can cover challenging topics, so might not be right for you if you’re unwell or have recently been hospitalised for your mental health condition. You also have to be able to manage being in a group, often for several hours at a time.

If you’re not sure, contact the group organiser to talk about any concerns.

How do self-management courses work?

Self-management courses are based on the principle that you know what works best for you – better than anyone else. During a course, you'll typically learn to:

  • recognise what triggers a relapse in your mental health condition
  • spot the early warning signs of a relapse 
  • identify what, if anything, can prevent a relapse
  • figure out which coping strategies work best for you
  • tap into other sources of support like local peer support groups
  • build coping strategies into your life
  • make an action plan 
  • draw up an advance decision and/or advance statement setting out how you'd like to be treated if you ever lack the mental capacity to make decisions about treatment in the future

How can I find a self-management course?

Ask your GP or other health worker involved in your care about self-management courses on the NHS, or search online to find out what’s available in your area. You may need a referral or you may be able to refer yourself.

Other organisations also run self-management courses, such as:

  • Self Management UK runs free courses that look at the challenges that can come with a mental health condition and ways to deal with them.
  • Bipolar UK has a series of free self-management webinars that can help you understand bipolar disorder, learn different approaches to managing it, identify your triggers, and more.
  • If you live in Scotland, Bipolar Scotland runs a self-management course that teaches you how to recognise your early warning signs and take action to prevent your mood escalating to severe depression or mania.
* Last updated: 16 February 2022