Is It Possible to Recover From Chronic Mental Illness?

October 20, 2011 Natalie Jeanne Champagne

It is possible to recover from chronic mental illness. But 'recovery' from chronic mental illness requires a different working definition. Here it is.

The title of this blog, Recovering from Mental Illness, argues that, yes, it is possible to recover from mental illness. But recovering from a mental illness is different from, say, recovering from a physical injury. I broke my ankle two years ago and spent time on crutches and in physiotherapy. The recovery period was slow, six months passed before I could walk with both feet, but my ankle slowly healed. It became well and functioned as it once had. I could rely on it to take me through the day. I could go running again.

Recovering from mental illness is not the same. The process probably does not require physiotherapy and Tylenol as the drug of choice. The road to recovery from mental illness is much longer, not usually smooth, and perhaps hot to the touch. Metaphors aside: it isn't easy.

Recovering From Chronic Mental Illness Differs From Recovering From a Physical Injury

A physical injury might tie you to bed for weeks or months, maybe you have to get surgery, or perhaps the injury will recur down the road. You may have to tell your supervisor that you need a few weeks off as a result, but can usually provide a date in which you will be back at work. Functioning as you were before the injury. The cast you wear tells the world that you are injured. Colleagues tell you to get well soon. And, with any luck, you do.

If you are diagnosed with a mental illness, the road to recovery is probably not as easy. It's easy to accept that you have physically injured yourself. It's depressing, sure, but acceptance of physical injury comes much easier. When coming to terms with the idea that you will have a mental illness for the rest of your life and will need to take medication and change your lifestyle, acceptance of the illness is anything but easy. It is probably the hardest thing you will come to terms with.

What Does Recovering from Chronic Mental Illness Mean?

Recovering from a mental illness is different than recovering from physical injuries. First, it is an invisible disease. It's not easy to explain to people that you are sick if you do not look sick; even though you are in pain and working to be free of it. Sometimes, you lose people who had previously been a vital part of your life. Surely, the best people will hang on for the ride.

The definition of recovery, the very roots of the word, mean to be healed or to be cured. People are not cured of mental illness but we do heal, and we do recover. It's important to understand what the word recovered means when tied to mental illness. Recovering is the process you take to find wellness and stability. It is the months, the years, you work to find the right medication and balance in your life. Recovering is hard work. It is the hardest thing I have ever done and something I work to maintain on a daily basis. Unlike a self-limiting physical injury, recovery is defined on a consistent basis. It is the medication you take when you should, the appointments with doctors or therapists, and the support network you nurture.

Achieving a State of Recovery From Mental Illness

Recovering is exhausting, but achieving a state of hard-earned wellness is liberating. Mental illness is a chronic disease, and so the word recovered implies remission. An abating or elimination of symptoms for a duration of time. A life that is not defined by the illness and instead the ability to move forward. It's important to plan for relapse but equally important to plan to for success.

Having a mental illness is not a life sentence. If the glass is is half full, and let's believe that it is, we might think of it as an opportunity to grow and to become stronger than we were. To live in the present moment and move on from the past: to work to recover and rejoice once we have.

APA Reference
Jeanne, N. (2011, October 20). Is It Possible to Recover From Chronic Mental Illness?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 13 from

Author: Natalie Jeanne Champagne

May, 29 2018 at 7:08 pm

This story also gives me a glimmer of hope for my 31 year old son. He does not believe he is ill and will not ever take medication again. He has nothing to do with us ( his parents) and he hates us. We just want him to get better and we miss him so much. Schizo-affective disorder has ruined all of our lives but especially his life.

paula ferguson
September, 28 2017 at 4:34 am

At this present time i am trying to deal with a rather obstinate pychiatrist who has put me on a depot injection which is pretty much intolrable i cannot function on a daily basis. i feel brain dead on the stuff. It is causing me more anxiety to be on the stuff. I am in a really bad way, and want so much to come off it.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

August, 26 2019 at 5:45 pm

get another doctor one you feel comfortable with if you are having side effects talk tell your doctor about it if it's the medication you are taking ask him more questions about what's in it. God bless you and get well soon my thoughts and prayers are with you

July, 21 2017 at 11:07 pm

I believe there is TOTAL RECOVERY. i have had 2 severe mental breakdowns if you like to call it that where I became quite psychotic/delusional. They were very traumatic and I was pretty told I would never fully recover, or would have to MANAGE it and would be on medication for the rest of my life . I would like to disagree totally to this. I have now been recovered for 7 years (no medication) and actually been working in mental health for that entire time. Sorry if this offends anyone but this was the case for me and I hope it inspires and brings hope to those who don't believe.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

August, 17 2017 at 2:47 pm

I believe like you, but have been unable to find consistency in feeling positive for any length of time longer than 4 to 5 weeks at a time.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

August, 24 2017 at 3:30 pm

I really have a hope by ur comment can i know where u have used medicines for this problem please sir

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

September, 18 2017 at 12:53 pm

I'm 67 years old. Mental illness has been a battle since I was a child. I tried, in the 50's and 60's to find help in books and through journaling. Finally in my mid 20's I started actively seeking help. Dozens of meds and combinations of meds, hospitalizations, and everything from ECT to DBT to VNS and now ketamine infusions have been tried. My doctors say I've worked harder than anyone they've ever seen as I tried to get better. I'm so tired. I am trying a new approach...acceptance. It doesn't make the pain go away, but I'm not beating myself up so much. And when people are mean, I try not to take it so personally.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

February, 23 2018 at 2:53 pm

I'm pleased to hear this ,a spark of hope for my son

Mr Ramesh Kumar Sharma
June, 20 2017 at 11:19 pm

I had a major depression but I am lucky one and survived/recovered.I got good family support and social support in my recovery from chronic illness. I was on medicins for the lasr 35 years and i still continue with minimum dosage of exercise, Nutrition,EFT and exposure to Natural sunshine.This is my suggestion for all those who want to recover from this difficult trauma.
Mr Ramesh Kumar Sharma

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

December, 3 2017 at 7:52 am

Hello. What kind of medicine do you use?

Mr Ramesh Kumar Sharma
June, 20 2017 at 9:25 pm

I had a major depression But i am a lucky one i survived and recovered.I got good family support and social support in my recovery from the chronic illness.I was on medicines for the last 35 years.and I still continue with minimum dosage of medicines plus exercise,Nutrition, EFT,and Exposure to natural sunshine. This is my prescription for all those who want to recover from this difficult trauma.
Mr Ramesh Kumar Sharma.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

October, 9 2018 at 1:05 am

Hi Mr Sharma. Like you I have had a major depression, as well as several bouts of bipolar. I am a survivor too! I enjoy a healthy lifestyle and a family with kids. My mantra is DEMSWAR for Diet, Exercise, Medication (or Meditation), Sleep, Water, Activity, Relationships. I work on these areas of my life every day. No guarantees, but worth a shot. Best wishes ...

May, 18 2017 at 12:58 am

I've had chronic severe depression and anxiety for almost 30 years. I've had every type of treatment available. When I was around 45-50 years old I realized there is no "getting well again" with depression and anxiety. There is maintenance therapy. I was in so many CBT groups and all I heard was "cure" and 'complete recovery". For a while, I believed them. As time wore on and I continued to get worse, I knew I was smarter than those group leaders. Eight years ago I found the most fabulous psychotherapist on the planet. (probably the 6th psychiatrist over the course of my disease) After our first session, I felt the weight of believing I was going to be "my old self again" lifted from my shoulders and thought I would fly. I asked him in our second session if he thought I would ever be "cured". He asked me the question in return, I answered "no". He told me we were going to get to work on helping me feel as good as possible. I take a few medications, therapy and family support and I am maintaining and that's okay with me.

April, 3 2017 at 10:52 am

Recovery to me is life long process that waxes and wanes throught, i ain't bothered about cognitive behavioural therapy nonsense or taking pills to cope with life challenges. I just get up every morning out of bed, go to the group/activity i am signed up for if i want to (well just turn up) then walk home 6 miles, watch telly, on my laptop, write about my rather shit day. I am anxious, I am anxious if I am depressed im depresed (just symptoms at the end of the day) and hope to fall asleep in a long coma. I don't bother with meds because of the horrible side affects (numbness, that leads to overeating weight gain and further depression) its just the way I am. I don't speak unless it's truly necessary (do you want a coffee, can you give me a lift to x y z today) and i learned it's easier to just pretend you feel alright whe you don't, pretend to "enjoy" actvitities, look happy but inside feel like utter dogshit and look forward to my "stay in days with iphone ignoring the world and it's wife" I gave up on the friends situation years ago (making friends) i gave up on trying to be socialable and enjoy life.

Veronique H
September, 22 2016 at 8:33 am

Great article, often times people compare mental illness to physical illness and expect a similar type of recovery. Most people don't know mental health recovery is a process not a destination. I wrote an article about how we need to stop seeing mental illness as something that needs to be "fixed" because that's not how recovery works. You can check it out here:

August, 27 2016 at 11:09 am

I had major depression my entire adult life and probably before that too. I have been on medication of some kind for more than 25 years and in therapy off and on for at least, half of that time. and I still want to die most days, in spite of a pretty normal life.
My current therapist thinks recovery, with no symptoms is possible, is the goal.
I do not believe her, but trust her with everything else. It is complicated.

Shirley Davis
January, 4 2016 at 3:51 am

It Is extremely possible (if I may use this term) to get well! You have to have several ingredients to do it though. I know from first hand experience as I am recovering and finally almost done with therapy for Dissociative Identity Disorder. (It used to be called Multiple Personality Disorder). You need a therapist you can relate to and who can be empathetic yet strict, you need a strong will to get well, and you need a great deal of patience with yourself and the process. Recovery is possible, in fact I would say it's probable if you stay on the road less traveled and don't give up!

December, 4 2015 at 12:12 pm

Hi I personally was very fortunate to have recovered from the horrid symptoms of my particular mental illness, but it was a long hard journey to reach the now peaceful moments I experience today. My illness was un treatable until almost 11 years ago. Thanks to psychologist, Marsha Linehan who created The DBT Therapy Program. (For those who are not familiar with DBT it is Dialetical Behavior Training based on the power of Mindfulness) Marsha took the time to travel to Bali and learned about mindfulness and somehow came up with DBT to help other Borderline individual's life easier when dealing with emotional abuse, but if the individual was not willing to change and practice these skills. There life and ongoing symptoms would stay the same. It wasn't easy to learn these skills, but I made myself practice and I also signed a contract that I agreed to change and these skills don't fix everything or change the way other's treat you.
I've heard that all mental illness is not treatable and you recover completely, but I do know my life has improved from fours years ago. When I first started DBT. I believe I will always have symptoms related to my illness, and take my meds for the rest of my life, but NOW I have control over it and can stay away from emergency rooms, psych wards and hospitalization. As also I focus on helping others stay well and maintain my wellness as a Peer facilitator through Alberta Mental Health. (Canada)
As a peer facilitator for WRAP (The Wellness Recovery Action Plan by psychologist (Mary Anne Copeland) I learned other skills that help me stay well and keep me aware of my symptoms. I am very grateful to these two women as they have made my life and I'm sure others live's happier and emotionally healthier these days.

shyam singh
September, 16 2015 at 7:28 pm

it is quite possible to recover from mental many people have recovered

Paula Speer
July, 21 2015 at 3:36 pm

I've been on meds since 1990 for depression. There were times I went off because I thought with all my 'knowledge' I could beat it and recover . I went back on - it happened twice- to save my life. When I finally heard my doctor say, when I was in a good place and thought I could lower the meds or stop altogether, she said "NEVER". That was when I finally realized I had to fight for my well-being the rest of my life. I had a complete relapse in 2012, and took off work for 3 weeks for a partial hospital program. I knew what I had to do, but the program offered more realizations and more ideas for my 'toolbox'. Probably the best part was I felt no stigma returning to work. Things are changing- it's about time.
Glad I stumbled across your site. My friends at NAMI would like to know about it.

February, 26 2014 at 12:37 pm

Recovery is what and how you think, your attitude and your perspective - It's all the different sized virtous circles that you employ to trim your sails and keep your vessel moving forward, all the good measures and precautions you put into your mental structures - to guide you among the many pitfalls of the mind and ego. The medication you take and the doctors you see are merely designed to supplement a healthy mental state, and unfortunately won't solve anything in and of itself.
The future is today, seize it accordingly.

Boyd Castiglione
November, 3 2012 at 9:08 pm

A very well thought out and educational post, thanks very much

Helen McGuire
October, 15 2012 at 7:57 am

I have only just come across this site and find this discussion very relevant to me. I have lived with chronic depression for about 15 years now. Until 2 years ago I'd had 3 years of good health when it returned for absolutely no reason at all. Although it's been mild and given me breaks during this time I couldn't accept it. A couple of months ago my GP said that this is who I am and he couldn't say it would go away and that I was putting pressure on myself by constantly wondering when I'd be well again. He was totally right. I have started the road of acceptance but I think like all things about my illness it'll be a constant learning process. I'm wondering if recovery is when you say to yourself, well my symptoms have returned but I can accept that, and not go down the scary road of what if...
I really like your blog/site Thanks

Dr Musli Ferati
April, 27 2012 at 12:30 am

Excellent observation indeed! It is my final comment after second reading of Your review on mental disease recovering process as long and difficult psychiatric treatment of any mental disorder. However, I would to stress the necessity of a comprehensive explanation of real nature of mental disease to patient and its close relatives. Without this prerequisite approaching, it isn't possible to achieve the satisfying recover from respective mental illness. By me as clinical psychiatrist, this simple and explicit intervention exhibit many benefit for recovering from mental disorder of any kind and dificulties

December, 31 2011 at 9:53 pm

I noticed that when my symptoms first started, and then times after that when I would feel bad again, every doctor I go to just wants to write prescriptions after five minutes! There should be legislation that prevents this practice. I went to 18 doctors to find one who agreed not to prescribe more than one medication at a time. My thought, and my husband's was: How do you tell which medicine is helping or hurting you if you try them all at the same time. I've even had doctors say; "Well, take these, it's what we give everyone."

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Natalie Jeanne Champagne
January, 1 2012 at 4:15 am

Hi, Whitney:
I experiences that here's-a=prescription-and-you-will-be-cured issue. I too went to so many different psychiatrists before finding one that worked for a period of time. I'm glad you found someone competent! You deserve it.
Thanks for commenting,

Jean Cozens
December, 31 2011 at 9:39 am

I dont beleive I am suffering from a mental illness at all. The "symptoms" the mental health services see as signs that I am suffering from a mental illness are all explainable and understandable in non-medical terms. It is not "mental illness" I fear, it is psychiatric treatment - psychiatric assault, incarceration, dangerous and debilitating "medication". Yes, recovery is possible, I have met people who have fully recovered and no longer take "medication" - Rufus May the famous survivor and psychologist for one. I beleive there are also many people he has helped to fully recover as well. What concerns me is the increasingly coercive nature of "mental health" services which are still working under the wrong, dangerous and inhumane doctrine that "mentally ill" people need "medication" for long periods, even for life.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Natalie Jeanne Champagne
January, 1 2012 at 4:17 am

Hi, Jean:
It is true that symptoms do not always indicate mental illness. This is why people need a mental health team to really go through every other option first. Chronic mental illness, the diagnosis, carries stigma and is hard to accept to I agree that some people do not need medication. But it can be dangerous, deadly, for those who do struggle to neglect treatment.

Depressionen Ursache
November, 17 2011 at 3:38 am

Hi there, I found your blog by way of Google at the same time as looking for a related subject, your site came up, it seems great. I've added to my favourites|added to bookmarks.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Natalie Jeanne Champagne
November, 17 2011 at 5:14 am

Hi, DU:
I am glad you like it.

Chris Summerville
October, 25 2011 at 7:57 am

The Recovery Philosophy developed from thre narative stories of people with lived experience of mental illness and "recovery."
• Philosophy, paradigm, model, and process
• Challenges the traditional model of care: pathologizing person and attention only to symptom reduction.
• Recovery. What is it? Living a meaningful, socially integrated life in the community beyond the limitations of mental illness.
Dr. Ashok Malla: 3 nuances of recovery.
• Personal Recovery: regaining one’s self identity. I am a person of worth, not a label or illness. Not dominated by self-stigma, fear and shame.
• Illness Recovery: regaining stability either by remission or illness management and stress management as regards symptom management. I am a resilient person striving for positive mental health. Not dominated by pathology.
• Social Recovery: regaining social statues by social inclusion and integration within community. I am not alone but enjoy social equity and benefits. Not dominated by discrimination or disability caused by society (Social Model of Disability).
• Recovery is more than just symptom reduction. It having a life of quality and inclusion based upon self-determination, hope, empowerment and opportunities.
• The goal of mental health systems and social services are to create environments in which this kind of recovery can happen; hence, “recovery-oriented mental health services.”
• Staff has to be trained and policies reflect these values, etc. Peer Support Workers are critical to the system’s transformation!
That’s it in a nutshell!!
What are people recovering from?
• Losses
• Illness
• Symptoms
• Side-effects
• Maturational development
• Non-recovery-oriented services
• Coercion
• Social prejudice
• Lack of employment
• Lack of income security
• Lack of workplace accommodations
• Learned helplessness
• Hopelessness
• Lack of housing
• Social exclusion
• Social inequities in living conditions: unjust distribution of resources and services
• Social and structural inequities: unfair and avoidable ways in which members of a different group in society are treated and their ability to access services
Equity is social justice. That’s why this is a social justice issue, not just a health issue!
Chris Summerville, D.Min., CPRP
CEO Schizophrenia Society of Canada

Dr Musli Ferati
October, 23 2011 at 8:10 am

Appertaining to recover from mental illness, I may said that this is the most desire intention of psychiatric treatment of any mental disorder both easy or serious ones. I agree with Your confession that mental illness are long term lasting diseases, but they aren't so invisible as You stressed. Indeed. every mental disorder is manifested with destruction of life functioning, including personal, professional and social performances to respective mental ill person. These handicaps resulted with falling of global life functioning and demolition of relationships. Therefore, that which we looked at mentally ill person is its inadequate behave to others. And, ours effort should be concentrated just to these points of psycho-social achievements of any mentally ill person. This approach would accomplish the process of recovery from mental illness. It is implied, that preliminary we ought to medicate the respective psychiatric entity.

October, 22 2011 at 2:04 pm

It is just as possible to recover from mental illness as it is from a physical injury. You have to decide if you will be the victim your whole life. Or if you will be a the survivor the example, the one people think will make it. Many people think i am pretty normal. But they didn't know me when I was sick. i refuse to allow myself the pity pool or the other self loathing scripts i used to have. I am not perfect, but I am a winner. i havemade horrible mistakes but the grace of the universe has shown me a lot of consideration. To tell the whole truth the more someone knows me the more they understand me. Thefaith they give me inspires meto bea better person. Raising mychold inspires me to be a better person. The fact that everyone treated me with sensitivity helped too. Many people can't make it out of the hole they dug, but i have and thank godforthose who handed me the shovel and gavemethe tools to cope and discern what is healthy and what is not. I choose to be who i am and i choose to accept myself for all myown good and bad. I keep trying and i never give up.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Natalie Jeanne Champagne
October, 23 2011 at 6:19 am

Hi, Jacsprat,
I agree that it is just as possible--the process just more difficult on a mental level. But I certainly do not want to ignore the fact that a physical injury can be devastating mentally. I know this first hand. Not being able to function physically can cause severe depression on its own.
Deciding to be the victim is not, I believe, a conscious choice---at first. After all, nobody wants to feel a like victim, but the illness is such that it feels like it sometimes, isolating and confusing. People think I am pretty normal as well---they also did not know me when I was sick. Now that I have started writing about my life, I cannot hide. This alone has helped me heal and I encourage people to talk about the illness.
I used to feel pretty sordid for myself as well. I felt like the victim. But now, I feel like I am a stronger person. This does not mean that I feel as if having the illness is not negative, the creative aspect of it is the positive for me, but just that I have put life in perspective---many people live hard lives and they too look "normal." People all struggle, that is the human condition. It is how we deal with the cards we have been dealt that really matters.
It is important to note, however, that if a person is ill and not yet treated they are not able to step outside of the box and claim life. It takes time and persistence and you are an excellent example of this.

October, 22 2011 at 10:31 am

The human mind is incredibly complex and we need more creative thinking in our treatment of mental distress. In particular it would help to have a whole community approach to engaging with and supporting those striving to bring about their own healing. If friends, family, professionals, the whole community, understood the terror and anguish of sufferers and how important it is to be "with" them through every minute, then we might be on the way. Currently we just hand out pills and expect patients to get better by themselves, with the occasional input from a professional service provider. Not good enough!
Living with a chronic condition is not the same as recovery. The assumptions underlying the myth that patients will always need treatment has no scientific basis. Our increasing understanding of how the brain works and its remarkable plasticity should give people hope. And encourage new ways of thinking about what we can do to help. I have a dream....

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Natalie Jeanne Champagne
October, 23 2011 at 6:26 am

Hi, Jill:
I agree, treatment needs a dose of creativity! The process of recovery can be stale, exhausting. It's so difficult for a community to embrace mental illness. It is something that often lives behind closed doors but the more we put a face to the illness, a name like yours, the closer we get to lessening the stigma. Patients are handed pills, yes, but they need community treatment as well. With any luck, the person ill has a support system that can find these things. Thank you for your comment Jill and I love your end reference "I have a dream..." That is what we need, dreams we can act on.

October, 20 2011 at 3:49 pm

(cont) - kitten helped me submit early:)
--and support was very liberating. Managing my illness vs. being consumed with my illness has been very difficult to achieve. I'm happy that I'm closer to managing my illness than being consumed by it. For those that are consumed, I understand. I support you.
Thanks again Natalie-great stuff.

October, 20 2011 at 3:47 pm

This is the most succinct description of mental illness recovery that I have come across. Recovering is hard work and I concurr it does not define me (all) as a person.
A few weeks ago, I updated my dedicated depression blog to my life blog. You can read that here:)
Updating to distinguish the difference between daily recovery from a major depressive disorder and having a major depressive disorder that I manage through meds, doctors, and support was very libe

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Natalie Jeanne Champagne
October, 20 2011 at 4:52 pm

Hi, CT:
Thank you so much for the positive feedback on my post. I am glad you can relate to the notion that we are not defined by the illness---we are so much more! Your blog looks fantastic and I do hope people will check it out.
Side note: my kitty always manages to step all over the keyboard:)
Take Care.

marzipan souffle
October, 20 2011 at 3:09 pm

Recovery requires nutrition,sleep,exercise,support,patience as in any physical injury. 99% of physical issues include mental set backs of stress and depression.
Divorce,death,relo,isolation,broken relationships all take a long, hard toll on people.If unsupported, these issues escalate to deeper mental handicaps.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Natalie Jeanne Champagne
October, 20 2011 at 4:47 pm

Hi, Marzipan:
Recovery involves many things, you have mentioned some crucial ones in your reply. I agree that life events,stressors, can impact recovery. I plan to do a post on this very soon.
Thank you for your comment

Steven Bridenbaugh
October, 20 2011 at 1:26 pm

I was ill for over ten years. I periodically had to be hospitalized. Near the end, I developed a lot of insight, and tried various ideas, to make myself better. Finally, whatever that was within me causing all the trouble healed. I no longer need medicine of any kind. I do occasionally become depressed, but I seem to be able to handle it without medicine. The medicines I was given while I was sick were very effective. I wish that I had been more careful about taking them.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Natalie Jeanne Champagne
October, 20 2011 at 4:42 pm

Hi, Steven:
I am sincerely happy you have been able to recover without medication---very few people with a chronic mental illness can do this, or should. It can be dangerous. It's good that the medicine you took worked so in the future you have options.Congratulations on your recovery!:)

rising phoenix
October, 20 2011 at 7:13 am

Seems like this post comes in good time for me...
Recently I've been fighting with if recovery is possible, and complete remission attainable.
I hate so much about being mentally ill, but I refuse to let it monopolise my life anymore.
Thank you :)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Natalie Jeanne Champagne
October, 20 2011 at 8:05 am

Hi, Maria:
Thank you for the positive feeback. I am glad you could relate to the post. It is something we all struggle with, me included. Stay positive!

Leave a reply