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Mental Illness Treatment vs. Wellness Promotion

Both are important, but they're not the same

Mental Illness Treatment vs. Wellness Promotion

One of the things I talk about in my new book Managing the Depression Puzzle is the idea of differentiating between illness treatment strategies and wellness promotion strategies. I think it’s a distinction that applies to mental illness in general. So what’s the difference?

Illness treatment

I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir here, but mental illness is an actual illness, and often a very serious kind of illness. Treatment strategies need to be targeted specifically to the illness in question, with the goal of controlling the symptoms and reducing the risk of relapse. For mental illness, treatment often involves medications or therapy.

The most appropriate type of treatment is going to depend on the severity of the illness. More severe episodes of illness may need multiple medications plus therapy. Depending on the illness, milder episodes may be manageable without specific treatment strategies.

To treat my own depression, medications are the foundations. I also take a couple of supplements that have research evidence to support their effectiveness for depression. In the past I've also had therapy and electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).

Wellness promotion

Wellness promotion strategies are those that would help anyone improve their overall health and wellbeing, like physical activity, self-care, a balanced, nutritious diet, and work-life balance. These are the kinds of activities that can elevate you from being okay to really feeling well. Supplementing illness treatment strategies with wellness promotion strategies can help to maximize the benefits from each.

When I'm most ill, I can only manage the very basics when it comes to wellness strategies. These things become much more important when I'm in more of a maintenance phase with my illness.

Separating the two

Sometimes you’ll come across people who presumably want to be helpful but just come across as obnoxious when they tell you that to manage your serious mental illness, you just need to eat more rutabagas. And okay, maybe rutabaga isn’t the exact suggestion they’re making, but I just like the sound of it.

The actual point I’m trying to get at is that when people suggest wellness strategies as treatments for illness, it comes across as ignorant and minimizing the severity of the illness, which really isn’t helpful for anybody.

Now, is it healthy to eat rutabagas? Presumably. Does eating rutabagas mean you can quit therapy or meds? Absolutely not. It’s all a matter of keeping in perspective what role each thing is supposed to play.

Similarly, illness treatment strategies on their own most likely aren’t going to be enough to obtain optimal health and wellbeing. You’ll probably want to include some self-care, maybe go to yoga class, and even a few rutabagas.

Finding a balance between the two will depend on what the illness is up to. The sicker you are, the more important it is to focus on treatment strategies. When the illness is under control and treatment is mostly a matter of maintenance, it’s a good time to work on incorporating more wellness promotion strategies.

So, illness treatment and wellness promotion are both good things, but they do different things. Maybe what we need to do is to start carrying around rutabagas to throw at the next person who suggests going for walks will get rid of your mental illness. I had to look up what rutabagas look like, but I think I could easily carry around a few of these in my purse.

Picasa user Seedambassadors / CC BY-SA

Ashley L. Peterson
Ashley L. Peterson
Read next: Never In the Cover of Night
Ashley L. Peterson

Mental health nurse, MH blogger at Mental Health @ Home, and living with mental illness. Author of 3 books: Managing the Depression Puzzle, Making Sense of Psychiatric Diagnosis, and Psych Meds Made Simple. Proud stigma warrior.

See all posts by Ashley L. Peterson