This page looks at what it means to recover from a mental illness. We focus on personal recovery and suggest different ways that you can help your own recovery. Not everything in this section will help you to recover from your illness. But we hope that it will help you to work out what you find useful.


  • You can recover from mental illness. Recovery means different things to different people. Personal recovery is about working towards something that is important to you. And having hope for the future.
  • You may still have mental health symptoms when you are recovered.
  • Medical treatment can often help towards recovery. But there are other options that you could try instead or at the same time.
  • Recovery is something you do for yourself. Someone else can’t do it for you. Other people may be able to help if you want them to.

What is recovery?

What is recovery?

There are 2 different meanings for recovery.

These are:

  • clinical recovery, and
  • personal recovery.

But there is often an overlap between them.

Clinical recovery
Your doctor might have talked to you about ‘recovery’. Some doctors and health professionals think of recovery as no longer having mental health symptoms. Sometimes this is called ‘clinical recovery’.

Dealing with symptoms is important to a lot of people. But we think recovery is wider than this, we call it ‘personal recovery.’

Personal recovery
Personal recovery means that you are able to live a meaningful life.

Personal recovery is individual to you. What is important to you, is likely to be different to what is important to someone else.

Don’t be afraid to think about what you would like to do and work towards that goal.

Below are some ways you can think of recovery.

  • Taking steps to get closer to where you would like to be.
  • Feeling part of the local community.
  • Achieving something that you found difficult to do. Such as getting out of the house.
  • Feeling able to look in the mirror and feel comfortable with who and what you see.
  • Liking yourself.
  • Thinking more positively.
  • Feeling settled with your treatment plan.
  • Feeling in more control of your emotions.
  • Having a better social life.
  • Being able to have a healthy relationship.
  • Having hope for the future.

Recovery is an ongoing process. It is normal to have difficulties or setbacks along the way. You could describe yourself as ‘recovered’ at any stage in your recovery if you feel things are better than they were before.

What can help me recover?

What can help me recover?

You will recover in your own way. There is no right or wrong way, it is personal. Some people call this process a ‘recovery journey’.

The following areas may be helpful for you to explore as part of your recovery journey.

  • Hope
  • Acceptance
  • Control
  • Stability
  • Relationships
  • Support groups
  • NHS treatment
  • Lifestyle

There is more information about each of the above on this page.


Hope is a key part of recovery. You might find it helpful to read stories from people about their recovery. You can find this information online. Have a look at the following websites as a first step.

You could join a support group. A support group is where people come together to share information, experiences and give each other support.

See below about support groups for more information about how to find a group.

You could also contact an emotional support line for support. You can find a list of emotional support lines at the end of this page.


Your recovery journey may be easier if you learn to accept your illness and the difficulties it causes. You may have to accept that there are some things that you can’t do anymore. But focus on what you can do. You are more likely to reach your goal if it is realistic.

Acceptance may help you to make positive changes and help you to reach new goals.

It might help you to:

  • read about your illness or symptoms. And
  • talk to other people with similar issues. Or who have the same diagnosis as you.

See below about support groups for more information about how to find a group.

Spiritual or religious beliefs and practices may also help you to make sense of your experiences and find meaning.

You can find more about ‘Spirituality, Religion and Mental Illness’ by clicking here.


Take control of your life. You are in control of you. Do what is best for you.

It may be helpful to think about these questions.

  • What makes me happy?
  • How can I be happier?
  • What do I want to have changed in my life by this time next year?
  • How can I do it?
  • Do I need support to do it?
  • Who can support me?

Control may mean that you are more involved with your medication and treatment options. A community advocate may be able to help you if you struggle to get your opinion heard. A community advocate is free to use and doesn’t work for the NHS. Speak to your family, doctor or other health professionals if you want more support to do what you would like to do.

Mood diary
Keeping a diary or log of your mental health for a few weeks may be helpful to help you to take control of your symptoms.

You could write down when you feel mentally unwell or stressed. You should include things like:

  • When do you feel mentally unwell or stressed?
  • What happened just before you felt this way?
  • Were you on your own or with someone?
  • How did you cope with your feelings?

The mood diary could also help you to identify things which can make you unwell. These things are known as ‘triggers.’ Identifying your triggers can help you to have more control over your stress levels.

There is a template for a mental health diary in the factsheet above that you can download from this page.

Achieving goals
Setting achievable goals can help you to recover.

To help you to set yourself a goal, think about what is important to you.

These can be goals such as, giving yourself a routine and sticking to it. Or goals such as making new friends or changing your job.

Some goals will need more work than other goals. And will take longer to achieve. Make sure that you are realistic with your goals. You don’t want to give yourself a goal which you are unlikely to be able to do. This is likely to have a negative impact on your mental wellbeing.

Whatever you decide to do make sure that you stick to it. There is not a quick fix and change will take time.

Below is an example plan.

Peter's Plan

What is your goal?

  • To eat healthier to improve my mental health
  • To gradually improve eating habits
  • To eat 3 meals at the same time each day
  • To eat at least 5 healthy meals per week

What is your deadline?

I am going to gradually change my eating habits over the next year

How are you going to prepare for this activity?

  • Put my mobile phone in the next room because I am easily distracted
  • Create a nice space to eat
  • Plan how long the meal will take to cook
  • Leave myself enough time to prepare, cook and eat the meal

How will you do this activity?

  • I am going to find a healthy and affordable recipe to cook within the next 2 days
  • I am going to buy the ingredients for this on Friday
  • I am going to leave myself plenty of time to cook this on Saturday
  • If I like it, I will cook it again in the week.
  • Next week I will do the same thing with a different recipe.

What will you do when you have finished your task?

  • I will acknowledge that I have achieved something which I found difficult
  • I will reward myself by doing something that I enjoy

What will you do if you haven’t stuck to your deadline?

  • I will acknowledge that change is hard and isn’t going to happen over night
  • I will be less hard on myself
  • I will reward myself for what I have managed to achieve
  • I will make a new deadline and start again.

Social care support
Your local authority may be able to offer you more support through a social care assessment. With more support you may feel more able to take control of your recovery.

You may be entitled to get help from social services. Social support can include support to help you to do things like:

  • get out of the house,
  • keep in touch with friends and family,
  • get a job or take part in education,
  • prepare meals or go shopping, and
  • manage money.

The Care Act 2014 gives local authorities the duty to assess people who are in need of care and support. This is called a needs assessment. The assessment must look at:

  • how your needs affect your wellbeing,
  • what you want to do in your day to day life, and
  • if social care would help you do what you want to do.

You will be given help if you have needs that qualify for support.

You will have a financial assessment to work out if you have to pay for some or all of your care. Some people will be entitled to free care from the local authority.

You can find more information about:

  • Medication. Choice and managing problems by clicking here.
  • Advocacy by clicking here.
  • Social care assessment under the Care Act 2014 by clicking here.
  • Social care - care and support planning by clicking here.


Money and housing worries can cause a lot of stress and make mental health problems worse. Secure finances and a suitable place to live can be important for your recovery.

Get help early if you start to have money or housing problems. If you ignore issues, they are unlikely to go away on their own. And may get worse.

You can find more information about:

  • Debt and Money Management by clicking here.
  • Debt – Options when you are in debt by clicking here.
  • Housing options by clicking here.


Contact with people can help you to stay well. Contact with people could be the following.

  • Face to face. You could visit a friend.
  • Online. You can use a free online programme such as ‘Skype’ or ‘WhatsApp’ to speak to family or friends.
  • Online forums. This is where people talk about a subject.
  • Telephone call.
  • Text message.
  • E-mail.
  • Letter.

You do not have to talk about your mental illness unless you want to. Talking to people about anything you like can have a positive effect on your mental health.

Below are some things you can do if you want to make more contact with other people.

  • Get back in touch with people you already know.
  • Join support groups.
  • Join online forums.
  • Join social groups such as through ‘Meet up.’
  • Join a recovery college.
  • Volunteer with a charity you care about.
  • Contact a befriending service.
  • Look for local classes or clubs that interest you.
  • Get help from the NHS or local authority.
  • Speak to emotional support lines.
  • Get into work or training.

Support from friends and family
Friends and family members can offer support to you and help to build hope for your future.

You could tell them about any care plans that you have and tell them about any goals you have.

They may be able to offer you better support if they understand your illness. You could suggest that they read information about your illness.

We have factsheets on different mental health conditions which you can download at You and your family may also find family intervention useful.

Family intervention
Family intervention is offered through the NHS for people with psychosis. It is a therapy where you and your family work with mental health professionals to help to manage relationships.

This should be offered to people who you live with or who you are in close contact with. The support that you and your family are given will depend on what problems there are and what preferences you all have. This could be group family sessions or individual sessions. Your family should get support for 3 months to 1 year and should have at least 10 planned sessions.

Bad Relationships
Unfortunately, not all relationships are positive. It is important to recognise when your relationships with others is having a negative effect on you.

Keeping a mood diary may help you to identify people who are making you feel unwell or stressed. There is a template for a mood diary diary in the factsheet above that you can download from this page.

Support groups

Joining a support group can be a good way to help yourself. Support groups may give you hope for the future or help you to take control of your life. They are a place where you can share experiences with others and get mutual support. You can search for local support groups below:

There are also online support services:

Or you can call the Rethink Mental Illness Advice Service on 0300 5000 927. We may be able to help find a support group for you.

Emotional support lines

You can contact an emotional support lines for support. Emotional support lines are also known as listening services. They are a place that you can off load how you are feeling to someone who is trained to listen. Emotional support lines are not the same as counselling. Counselling is also known as talking treatment.

You can find a list of emotional support lines at the bottom of this page.

NHS Support

There are different types of support that you can get from the NHS.

The right medical treatment is important to many people. It is often the first step towards recovery.

Often there are different medications that are used to treat the same symptoms. You may start your recovery journey by finding a medication that helps your symptoms and has the least amount of side effects for you.

Medication is helpful for a lot of people but not everyone needs it to recover. If you do use medication, or are thinking about using medication, it is important to remember that it may not work straight away.

Other treatment options may be important to you such as:

  • talking therapy,
  • mindfulness
  • art therapy or
  • complementary therapies.

Complementary therapies are not generally available on the NHS.

Social Prescribing
Social prescribing is non-medical option to help improve your wellbeing. You can talk to your GP about a link worker. Link workers are not yet available in all areas of the country. The NHS have committed to having 1,000 link workers in place by April 2021. There will be more link workers in place by 2024.

A link worker will work with you to find out what is important to you. They can connect you with local support such as:

  • activity groups,
  • support groups,
  • services, such as charities, and
  • social services.

Recovery College
Recovery colleges are part of the NHS. They offer free courses about mental health to help you manage your symptoms. They can help you to take control of your life and become an expert in your own wellbeing and recovery. You can usually self-refer to a recovery college. If you have a care team, the college may tell them you are attending.

Unfortunately, recovery colleges are not available in all areas. To see if there is a recovery college in your area you can use a search engine such as Google. Or contact Rethink Mental Illness Advice Service on 0300 5000 927 and we can try and find one local to you.

You can find more information about:

  • Talking treatments by clicking here.
  • Medication. Choice and managing problems by clicking here.
  • Complementary and alternative treatments by clicking here.


Making small lifestyle changes can improve your wellbeing and can help your recovery.

Routine may help to improve your mental wellbeing. It will help to give a structure to your day and may give you a sense of purpose.

This could be a simple routine such as eating at the same time each day, going to bed at the same time each day and buying food once per week.

John's Story

John has depression. He has noticed that he can manage his condition well if he has regular exercise and sleep. John exercises for at least 30 minutes a day. He walks to his local shop to buy his milk and newspaper on most days. If the weather is bad, John uses a strong wooden box to step up and down from while he watches the television. John knows that his mood will go low if he doesn’t get regular sleep. He monitors his sleep with a diary. John has agreed with his GP that he will take a sleeping tablet if he has not slept well for 2 nights in a row. John meditates before he goes to bed. He doesn’t do this every night. He finds it helpful if he has a stressful day.


John's Story

Learn something new
You may want the learn something new. New activities can help you to learn new skills and meet new people.

You can also include time for your new activity into your daily or weekly routine.

To learn new skills, you could try the following.

  • Volunteer
  • Study
  • Get a job
  • Talk to your employer about new things that you can learn as part of your job
  • Do housework or gardening
  • Learn a new hobby
  • Go to a class
  • Get a pet
  • Exercise

Sleep is very important. If you’re dealing with mental health issues such as stress, you may struggle to sleep well. Your mental health symptoms may feel worse if you are tired.

Not getting enough sleep can cause problems such as poor concentration and low mood. Long term sleep issues can lead to mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.

If you struggle with sleep, you can try to:

  • talk to your doctor,
  • refer yourself for NHS talking therapy, or
  • practice sleep hygiene.

Sleep hygiene means things like:

  • having a regular bedtime routine,
  • only using your bed for sleep,
  • exercising regularly but avoiding lots of exercise too close to bedtime,
  • cutting down on caffeine, especially in the evening,
  • making the place you sleep is a comfortable temperature,
  • making sure the place you sleep is dark,
  • not using your phone or computer immediately before bedtime, and
  • making sure that the place you sleep is tidy.

Eat Well
You can feel emotionally well if you eat well. Eating well will mean something different to different people. Generally, it means:

  • Your weight stays normal. Not too low or too high for your height.
  • Your weight stays stable. Not going up and down all the time.
  • You eat the necessary food groups regularly. Such as fruit and vegetables.
  • Eating is enjoyable.

Exercise can improve your mental health. It can help with depression and anxiety. And symptoms such as:

  • negative mood,
  • low self-esteem,
  • social withdrawal, and
  • thinking clearly.

Exercise can be as good as antidepressants or talking treatments for mild depression.

GP’s can prescribe exercise in some areas in the UK. This is part of social prescribing. See social prescribing above on this page for more information.

If you need some support to start exercising you could look at the information on the ‘We are undefeatable’ website. We are undefeatable is an exercise campaign that Rethink Mental Illness are involved with. Click the below link for more information:

You can read more about how physical health and lifestyle changes below:

Reward yourself

Make sure you reward yourself for any positive changes you make.

It is all too easy to be hard on yourself. Often, we are our own worst critic.

Remember to congratulate yourself for any achievement. And be kind to yourself when you haven’t achieved a goal.

Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) Plus. Formerly living without

Depression and Manic Depression - Mary Ellen Copeland, PhD. The Wellness Recovery Action Plan® or WRAP® is a self-designed wellness process. You can use a WRAP to get well, stay well and make your life your own. It was developed in 1997 by a group of people who were searching for ways to overcome their own mental health issues and move on to fulfilling their life dreams and goals.


Staying Well with bi-polar Guide. Rethink Mental Illness.

Staying well with bipolar is a guide based on the research conducted by Rethink Mental Illness. It is based on the personal experiences and learning of 32 people


Live your best working life. Mental Health UK

Mental Health UK is made up of 4 national mental health charities working across the country. Such as Rethink Mental Illness. They provide videos and information to help to iprove your life The Live your best working life page has tips and ideas to help you manage your mental health and wellbeing so you can be your best at work.


Recovery Star

Developed by the Mental Health Providers Forum, the recovery star measures outcomes to allow people to measure their recovery progress.


Emotional Support lines

Can be contacted by telephone, letter, e-mail and mini-com. There's also a face-to-face service, available at their local branches. They are open 24 hours a day, every day of the year.

Telephone: 116 123

Sane Line
Work with anyone affected by mental illness, including families, friends and carers. Their helpline is open between 4:30pm and 10.30pm every day of the year. They also provide a free text-based support service called Textcare and an online supportive forum community where anyone can share their experiences of mental health.

Telephone: 0300 304 7000 (4:30pm – 10:30pm every evening)
Support Forum:

Support Line
They offer confidential emotional support to children, young adults and adults by telephone, email and post. They work with callers to develop healthy, positive coping strategies, an inner feeling of strength and increased self-esteem to encourage healing, recovery and moving forward with life. Their opening hours vary so you need to ring them for details.

Telephone: 01708 765200

Papyrus UK
Work with people under 35 who are having suicidal feelings. And with people who are worried about someone under 35. Their helpline is open 9am – 10pm in the week. And between 2pm and 10pm at weekends and bank holidays.

Telephone: 0800 068 41 41
Text: 07786 209697

C.A.L.M. (Campaign Against Living Miserably)
Aimed specifically at men. Their helpline is open between 5pm and midnight every day of the year.

Telephone (outside London): 0800 58 58 58
Telephone (London): 0808 802 58 58
Webchat: through the website

Aimed at people over 55. The Silver Line operates the only confidential, free helpline for older people across the UK that’s open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days of the year. They also offer telephone friendship where we match volunteers with older people based on their interests, facilitated group calls, and help to connect people with local services in their area.

Telephone: 0800 4 70 80 90

The Mix
Aimed at people under 25. Their helpline is open between 4pm and 11pm, 7 days a week. They also run a crisis text service which is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Telephone: 0808 808 4994
E-mail: through the website.
Crisis text message service: Text THEMIX to 85258
Webchat: through the website. (4pm - 11pm, 7 days a week - chats may not be connected after 10:15pm)

Mood Swings
Aimed at anyone affected by a mood disorder, including friends, families and carers.

Telephone: 0161 832 37 36

If you are in crisis you can contact the following text support service for help and support:

If you’re experiencing a personal crisis, are unable to cope and need support, text Shout to 85258. Shout can help with urgent issues such as suicidal thoughts, abuse or assault, self-harm, bullying and relationship challenges.

Text: Text Shout to 85258

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