What Does a Mental Illness Relapse Look Like?

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While mental health disorders are something everyone is familiar with, they still come with a stigma attached. Many people still cling to the notion that having a mental health disorder is the equivalent to personal weakness or negativity. However, in reality, mental health disorders are relatively normal. And when s properly treated, most can be easily managed so that people can live their best lives. Unfortunately, it remains difficult for many to realize what living with a mental disorder is really like, including what it is like to experience a mental health relapse. Still, the best way to shed light on mental health is to talk about it.

Mental health is something that affects everyone, in one way or another. If a person doesn’t live with a mental health disorder, chances are they know someone who does. In fact, mental health disorders are so pervasive, the National Alliance on Mental Illness claims that one in five Americans experiences mental health disorders each year. Of the many mental health disorders in the U.S., anxiety disorders are the most common, with 40 million people affected. Behind anxiety is depression, which exist among nearly 23 million Americans.

What is a Mental Health Relapse?

The word ‘relapse’ is most commonly used to describe recovered addicts and alcoholics who have started drinking or drugging again after remaining sober for a period of time. But relapse is also something that occurs frequently in those with a mental health disorder.

A mental health relapse is defined by the return of prominent symptoms associated with the mental health disorder and a person’s decreased functioning as a result of those symptoms. But, a mental health relapse is not something that just occurs overnight. Rather, a mental health relapse develops over time.

Mental health disorders cannot be cured, only treated. This means that in order to keep your mental health disorder from taking control of your life, you need to receive the appropriate care and maintain your wellness for the rest of your life. When you neglect the needs of your mental health disorder and your overall well-being, you can set yourself up for a mental health relapse.

Relapse Triggers

Depending on the mental health disorder, along with factors such as age and physical health, everyone living with a mental health disorder has their own triggers. However, some common relapse triggers include:

  • Poor sleep or not getting enough sleep
  • Personal grief or loss
  • Conflict with loved ones
  • An unpleasant event such as a perceived failure, disappointment, or criticism
  • Alcohol and substance use or abuse

What are the Warning Signs of Mental Health Relapse?

So, what are some of the warning signs that a person might be on the road towards a mental health relapse? Everyone is different and unique when it comes to their mental health, however there are some common denominator symptoms that are often seen across the board. They include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Changes in sleep patterns, such as suddenly sleeping too much or too little 
  • No longer taking medication regularly or at all
  • Socially withdrawing from others
  • Feeling on edge 
  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Delusions 
  • Increase in risk-taking behaviors
  • Confusion

When these warning signs become noticeable, it is imperative to try to intervene prior to them growing worse. By intervening, a full-on relapse can be avoided. 

The Signs of Relapse

Someone who is experiencing a mental health relapse is someone who is seeing the onset of their symptoms once again. This means that, depending on the type of mental health disorder they have, they are no longer in control of their mental health disorder.

For example, someone who struggles with depression but who has been treated for it effectively can relapse. That relapse can look like an inability to get out of bed, a detachment from surroundings, low motivation to engage in enjoyable activities, and so on. It might also include no longer taking prescribed medication or speaking with their therapist.

Someone with an anxiety disorder, meanwhile, might be relapsing if their symptoms (such as panic, fear, and irrational thoughts) begin taking over once again, leaving them struggling to function.

What to Do After Relapse

The most important thing to do when a mental health relapse occurs is to try to nip it in the bud as quickly as possible. The longer that a relapse lasts, the more pieces there will be to pick up. Some of the ways to address a mental health relapse can include the following:

  • Calling a therapist, psychologist, or other mental health provider who has provided services in the past
  • Reconnect with members of a support network, such as a local community support group 
  • Call the doctor and request an appointment
  • Tell close friends and family about what is going on 
  • Take time off of work, school, etc.
  • Practice good self-care 
  • Participate in yoga or other meditation-style activities
  • Refer to a previously developed relapse plan

Many people who struggle with mental health disorder develop a relapse plan for if they do experience a relapse. What that plan might include the following:

  • List of emergency contacts such as doctors, therapists, etc.
  • Medication history 
  • List of triggers for relapse
  • Contact information for members of a support group 

A relapse plan is home to all the information that a person (or their loved ones) needs to help them get back on track. As mentioned before, the sooner that a person bounces back from a relapse, the better their overall outcome will be. 

Looking for Help? You Are Not Alone.

No one wants to have to deal with something that challenges them on a daily basis. Unfortunately, when it comes to your mental health, there’s no choice but to face down those challenges. The good news is you do not need to live alone in your mental health disorder. We understand how difficult and painful it can be to try to get through the symptoms of your mental health disorder all on your own. That is why we encourage you to call us right now because you are far from alone. Call us today to learn more about how we can support you on your journey to wellness.

About Our Founder

Jose Hernandez, for over a decade, has been involved in alcohol and addiction recovery helping people succeed in overcoming substance abuse and regaining control of their lives. He has experience in all aspects of the recovery world, from facilitating entry into treatment as an intervention specialist to counseling and case management at rehabilitation facilities. Jose has worked one-on-one with individuals as a sober companion and with groups as a resident counselor at addiction treatment centers and is certified by the California Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors (CAADAC) to practice as a substance abuse counselor.

Through his professional experiences in crisis intervention, drug and alcohol detoxification, substance abuse counseling, and relapse prevention, Jose has developed a unique plan for case management that bridges the gap between a person’s painful past of substance abuse and a future of sobriety.

At Riviera Recovery, a sober living facility with multiple locations, clients continue their transition from the supportive environment of a treatment center to living well and happily in the “real” world. The program he designed at Riviera Recovery personalizes treatment plans that enable clients, including those with a single or dual-diagnosed mental health disorder, to embrace a satisfying life.

His greatest endeavor has been establishing LAUNCH, a Los Angeles-based life skills intensive outpatient program for young adults. LAUNCH works with recovering men and women to establish personal vocational and educational goals and develop the tools to successfully meet them. His mission is to ensure that no one stands alone in his or her recovery.

Meet Our Clinical Team

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Jess Beck, LCSW

Clinical Director

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Eric Chaghouri, MD


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Chloe Kruskol, LCSW

Family Program Manager

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    Launch provided care on multiple levels. The highly skilled therapist coupled with the focus on purpose and long-term goals refocused my recovery from what previous treatment centers pushed onto me. I went from believing that I needed years of treatment to believing I needed years happiness and success. I began to focus on what I wanted to accomplish with my life. I came to realize all the things my addiction and mental illness had taken from me, and I used my future goals as a reason to never pick up again. Due to the passion that Launch instilled in me, I have pursued my future with excitement and dedication.

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