The Importance of a Complete Diagnosis: Managing Multiple Mental Illnesses

It is an extra challenge to cope with and live with more than one mental illness. Treatment professionals can help these patients by making very thorough and accurate diagnoses and planning treatment programs that address all existing conditions, as well as trauma and substance use. Patients benefit from long-term treatment but also lifestyle and coping strategies that make living with more than one condition feasible.

Living with more than one mental illness is difficult and can significantly impair how you function and decrease your quality of life. There is hope for anyone living with multiple mental health conditions, because focused treatment that addresses all needs can be effective.

This is why getting a complete diagnosis for any kind of mental illness, substance use disorders, and trauma is essential. Only with a thorough evaluation and diagnosis can you get the treatment you need to manage and live well with multiple mental illnesses.

Co-Occurring Mental Illnesses

Co-occurring disorders is a term often applied to having a mental illness and a substance use disorder, a situation that is very common. However, it is important to recognize that it’s also possible to have more than one mental illness at a time. Approximately 20 percent of U.S. adults have at least one mental illness during any given year, but three percent of adults have more than one mental illness at a time in any given year.

It is not as common as having a mental illness with substance abuse, but co-occurring mental disorders happens more often than most people realize. Additionally, many of these people who struggle with more than one mental illness also struggle with substance use.

Having co-occurring disorders is complicated. Living with just one condition, like depression, can be challenging. The symptoms cause dysfunction and make daily living difficult. When you have more than one, such as depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), you have two sets of symptoms that can really impact your ability to function. Symptoms often overlap and can be additive. For instance, the anxiety triggered by OCD’s obsessive thoughts can add to feelings of hopelessness and guilt that come with depression.

Mental Illness and Trauma

Another issue that you may have to face along with mental illness is a traumatic past. Research has found there is a definite link between traumatic experiences, especially in childhood, and later mental health issues. If you are struggling with one or more mental illness, chances are you are also living with the painful memories of past trauma. When addressing mental health needs, trauma from the past must also be considered and addressed or it will continue to cause recurrences of symptoms and episodes.

The Importance of Diagnosis

The first step in successfully managing mental illnesses is to get a thorough and complete diagnosis. Until you know exactly what conditions are causing your symptoms, you will continue to struggle. For instance, if you are diagnosed with social anxiety disorder but your agoraphobia is missed, the latter will go untreated. You may learn some useful things in therapy to overcome your fear of making new friends and socializing, but without addressing agoraphobia you will still struggle to leave the home.

Mental health clustering is a useful tool that some professionals use to help place patients in groups that help describe their treatment needs. Clustering is used alongside traditional diagnosis as an additional tool. While it is not strictly needed to help patients coping with mental illnesses, clustering can be a helpful way to organize the needs and potential treatments for each individual.

Treatment Must Address All Mental Health Needs

Each mental illness that you have does not exist in a vacuum. Although they are diagnosed as separate conditions, the reality is that they are complexly intertwined. One impacts the other. This is why treatment has to address all mental illnesses to be effective. Trying to treat and manage just one mental illness is like trying to treat just one tumor in a cancer patient. The one that is ignored will continue to spread and make the patient ill.

In mental health, the most effective way to get a positive outcome from treatment is to address all conditions at one time, within the same program. Ignoring anxiety, for instance, and only treating depression will inevitably lead to recurrences of anxiety that trigger relapses of depression.

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What Does Treatment for Multiple Mental Illnesses Look Like?

Treatment for more than one mental illness is not fundamentally different from treating just one. It is still based on a foundation of therapy and medications if appropriate, along with supportive and alternative therapies, and group and family support if possible. The difference is that the treatment professionals have to include both or multiple mental illnesses in the goals of care and the plan for treatment.

What this looks like in real life depends on each individual. But generally it means that therapy sessions include discussions of all symptoms, both mental illnesses, and how they impact each other. For example, if a patient is struggling with bipolar disorder and past trauma, therapists will explore how traumatic memories may trigger episodes of depression or contribute to psychotic symptoms during mania. Therapists can help this patient by helping them process the trauma and learn how to cope with it in a healthier way, so it does not exacerbate bipolar symptoms.

Living With Multiple Mental Health Issues

The first and most important thing you can do if coping with more than one mental illness or mental health issue is to seek treatment. But not all treatment is the same. The best choice is to work with a facility that is experienced in helping patients manage co-occurring conditions. Treating more than one mental disorder is complicated, but there are facilities and professionals who specialize in just this kind of care.

If possible, involve people you care about in therapy sessions or psychoeducation. In therapy, you will learn a lot more about your conditions and how they impact your moods, behaviors, and choices. It’s important to have your family or partner learn more about these as well. They will be better able to support you and have empathy.

While going through treatment and when back at home after any residential care you receive, you can use the tools you learned to cope better with your symptoms. Positive, healthy coping strategies are important for managing symptoms and reducing the risk of symptom relapse. Breathing exercises, mindfulness meditation, yoga, exercise, and other relaxation and stress-coping strategies can all help, for instance.

Keep in mind that it is important to find what works for you. Deep breathing may take your mind off your anxiety and help you relax, but yoga may be uncomfortable or cause more anxiety. Whatever helps you the most is what you should use as a coping mechanism. Everyone is different, and there is no single right way to manage multiple mental illnesses.

Above all, keep in mind that living with more than one mental illness is incredibly complicated. There is no single treatment plan that helps everyone. Even when you do find a treatment program that helps you and meets your needs, be patient. It likely will take time, more time than it would for someone with just one mental illness, to see real results. Try not to get frustrated and enlist people who care about you to support you through this journey.

Our Mental Health Facilities

Constellation Behavioral Health is proud to be a leader and innovator of mental health services. Our integrated, shared system of care ensures quality of care across all of our facilities, with a distinct focus on providing a robust differential diagnosis, cultivating personal agency, and working closely with families and healthcare providers to ensure the best chance for lasting recovery. Coordination and collaboration of staff across our different facilities contribute to consistency of quality and shared treatment philosophies.

BrightQuest Treatment Centers

Located in Nashville and San Diego, BrightQuest specializes in complex psychiatric conditions, providing compassionate care to a vastly underserved population. With our unique therapeutic community model, BrightQuest is the long-term residential solution you’ve been looking for to provide your loved one with the tools necessary to live a healthier and more independent life.

Bridges to Recovery

Our Bridges to Recovery locations in Los Angeles and San Diego are designed for men and women struggling with mental health disorders who are seeking a safe alternative to hospitalization for their care. Many clients choose residential care at Bridges to Recovery because, despite their best efforts and dedication to treatment, they still are not living a stable and satisfying life. Our clinical expertise and nurturing home-like residences provide clients a safe and supportive environment to recover and heal. The quality and comprehensiveness of our integrated, intensive treatment program allow for rapid relief from suffering and tremendous growth, all in a few short weeks.

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> Bridges to Recovery: Residential Mental Health Treatment