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  • Writer's pictureDr Ghia Osseiran

Mental Illness and Addiction: How to Cope When You Have Both

Addiction and mental illness tend to come hand in hand when one is left untreated. Many people struggling with mental illness will turn to substances in an attempt to control their symptoms while those with untreated addictions may find themselves developing a mental disorder. I’ve spoken to people who fell into both categories, and they told me the kinds of daily challenges they face can be overwhelming at times.

Fortunately, they were also kind enough to share the ways they cope in the hopes of helping others. If you are experiencing the effects of an untreated addiction or mental illness, here are a few things you can be doing to manage your symptoms and regain control over your life.

First, Seek Treatment

The people I spoke to said they avoided treatment for all kinds of reasons. Some were worried about being judged by others, and quite a few said it was the cost that gave them pause.

First, know that there is no shame in seeking help for a mental health or addiction issue. You can choose to share it with others or not, but you should never feel embarrassed. Without proper treatment, your health concerns can only be managed to a point.

There are also plenty of options if you are economically unable to secure traditional treatment. Free counseling sessions online can be a great place to at the very least get started on your recovery. Free clinics can be another valuable resource for locating affordable treatment.

Correct Your Diet

A poor diet can contribute to mental health problems. When your diet has nutritional gaps and relies on unhealthy foods, your mental well-being suffers. Though you may think you’re too busy to cook healthy meals for yourself, there are kitchen implements that can help.

For instance, a friend of mine — a single, working mother in addiction recovery — uses her crock pot for just about every meal. Slow cookers are a great option for the workaholic, families with hectic schedules, and even students with little time to cook. Simply prepare your ingredients the night before and toss everything into the pot before heading off to work, school, or any other obligations. By dinnertime, a fresh, hot, healthy meal will be waiting.

Incorporate Exercise into Your Routine

Mental illnesses and addictions can attack your motivation to be active. However, even the smallest amount of physical activity can be beneficial in managing your symptoms. Try a rapid-fire workout that only takes minutes of your day and has been shown more effective than prolonged exercise.

If that doesn’t sound appealing, yoga or tai chi are excellent alternatives to ease into being active. Both are low impact, relaxing, and easy to learn regardless of fitness level.

Learn to Meditate

Meditation has been shown in countless studies to be hugely beneficial in a wide range of health concerns. The ability to calm yourself down, think rationally, and quiet your thoughts is something everyone with a mental illness should know. As one friend explained:

“My mind rarely quiets down on its own. Meditation helps me sort out the chaos and take a breath.”

Meditation can be harder to learn than it seems, but by practicing just a few minutes a day, you will eventually master this amazing skill. Furthermore, meditation is a tool you can take everywhere, helping you with your symptoms no matter where you go.

Join a Support Group

Virtually every person I spoke to mentioned the importance of joining a support group. Support groups are networks of people who understand what you are going through and are able to offer both sympathy and advice. People like this are invaluable when working to overcome both mental illness and addiction. Friends and family are wonderful to have around but likely cannot fully comprehend what you are going through. One friend told me that having people in her life that have actually gone through the same kinds of experiences is not only refreshing, it makes her feel a lot less alone in the world.

Overcoming the effects of mental illness and addiction on your life is not an overnight task, and you should always seek the help of a trained professional. Even if you feel you cannot afford treatment, it is critical that you find something that will work for you. Online counseling is a good place to begin. From there, you can start making positive lifestyle changes and connections. If you continue on this path, you will soon find your life coming back to you — the secret, according to my friends, is a little faith.

Amanda Bartow believes there is only one greater feeling than being recognized for a job well done — the fulfillment that comes from honoring someone’s achievements! Recently, she did some research and interviewed addiction warriors all across the country. She’s happy to share the moving stories and heartfelt wisdom of these brave souls!


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