When you or a loved one is suffering from a mental health issue, the initial focus is on feeling better, faster. Often, when someone is feeling better, they will stop taking their medication, stop going to psychotherapy, and try to put the episode behind them. It is very important to move forward; however, it is also important to continue with a treatment plan that focuses on RELAPSE PREVENTION.
Why is relapse prevention so important?
While some kinds of mental health issues are limited to one episode, many common problems like Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), or ADHD are long-term issues. For these types of conditions, it can be helpful to make comparisons to other chronic health issues like diabetes.
If someone is diagnosed and treated for diabetes, what happens next? Do they stop taking medication, stop working on their diet and exercise, and stop going to the doctor? If they do not take care of their diabetes long-term, the problems will quickly return and put their health at risk.
Similarly, with many psychiatric problems, if someone does not continue with a relapse prevention treatment plan, they are placing themselves at risk. For example, someone with MDD might start an antidepressant and see a psychotherapist weekly. If they are feeling better and stop the antidepressant and stop seeing their therapist, there is a good chance they will have another depressive episode at some point in the future. This episode will make them feel bad, they will lose time at work or school, they will not be able to care for others. They will then need to restart medication and/or therapy and work hard to get back to their baseline. This can be difficult and take months!
High quality mental health providers will make sure to include relapse prevention as part of a complete treatment plan. This may be as simple as checking in with your psychiatrist on a regular basis, or with ongoing tracking of your mood.
If you have suffered with mental health issues in the past and are feeling better - congratulations! Please be sure to ask your provider for a relapse prevention plan so you can get the most our of your treatment and continue to feel better, longer!