Healthy Living with Mental Illness


Here are some common questions that you may have. You may find answers to other questions in For More Information or by contacting the groups listed on the right.

I think I may have a mental illness. What should I do?

See Mental Health and Mental Disorders to learn more about potential signs of mental illness. For assessment and referrals, call the VCBH STAR Team at (866) 998-2243. Do keep in mind that symptoms may also be due to problems such as lack of sleep, stress, or drugs and alcohol. A complete physical exam is an important first step to rule out physical health issues.

Don't delay seeking help. Treatment may produce better results if started early.

After a diagnosis, what are my options?

Once a diagnosis is made, the specialist will recommend a specific treatment. It is important to understand the various treatment choices, which often include psychotherapy or medication. Some treatment choices have been studied experimentally, and other treatments are a part of health care practice. In addition, not every community has every type of service or program.

Psychosocial therapies can be very effective alone and in combination with medications. Psychosocial therapies are also called "talk therapies" or "behavioral therapy," and they help people with mental illness change behavior. Therapies that teach coping strategies can also be effective.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy that can be used. It has been widely studied and is an effective treatment for a number of conditions, such as depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and social anxiety. A person in CBT learns to change distorted thinking patterns and unhealthy behavior. People can receive CBT individually or in a group setting. CBT can be adapted to fit the needs of each person. It is especially useful when treating anxiety disorders.

Some people benefit from a combination of different psychosocial approaches. Often a combination of medication and psychosocial therapies may be most effective. Psychosocial therapies often take time, effort, and patience. However, it's an opportunity to learn new skills that may have positive long-term benefits.

More information about treatment choices can be found in the psychotherapies and medications sections of the National Institute of Mental Health.

What are psychiatric medications?

Psychiatric medications affect brain chemicals related to mood and behavior. Everyone has individual needs and needs to be monitored closely while taking medications. See For More Information for links to learn more about medication, and Talking about Mental Illness for "What should I ask my doctor if I am prescribed a psychiatric medication?"

What about side effects?

Sometimes medications can have unpleasant side effects, which leads to people not wanting to take them. It's important to discuss any side effects with your health care provider, and not to self-medicate, or to change dosage without it being monitored.

What is peer support?

Peer Support Specialists and Recovery Coaches are trained to use their personal experience of recovery from mental illness as a tool for inspiring hope in the people they serve. Learning from someone who has dealt with similar mental health problems can be empowering. Learn more from RICA or Turning Point, which are listed on the right.

When I get treatment, what are my rights to privacy?

Like physical healthcare, mental healthcare is governed by The HIPAA Privacy Rule which protects the sharing of personal health information. You have the choice as an adult to decide which information is shared with other people, and can invite family members to be involved in your treatment at whatever level you want.

For more information about privacy rights, see the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services or contact the Transformational Liaison Program listed on the right.

What if I also have a substance abuse problem?

Mental illness is often linked with drug or alcohol problems. For example, nearly half of people with bipolar disorder also have issues with alcohol abuse, and each can make the symptoms of the other one worse. If you have both a serious mental illness and substance abuse, it's called "dual diagnosis" or "co-occuring disorders", and treatment may require a specialist in dual disorders. Also, sometimes it's hard to tell if symptoms are due to drugs, alcohol or mental illness, and professional assessment may be needed.

For dual diagnosis assessment and referral, contact the VCBH Star Team at (866) 998-2243. For alcohol and drug treatment services, contact Ventura County Alcohol & Drug Programs at (805) 981-9200.


Source: National Institute of Mental Health