Recovery from mental illness is never a one-size-fits-all process. This is true even for people who share a therapist or attend the same inpatient clinic. One of the big issues that needs to be addressed is that of the person’s environment outside of the therapeutic setting. No matter how good the treatment may be, context can upend everything. Without taking the outside environment into account, there is a significant chance that recovery will not be sustainable.
In this article, we’ll delve into the ways your environment affects your recovery from mental illness. This understanding will help you identify what you will need to do to ensure your continuing treatment is suited to your context.
1. The Living Space
Let’s start with the most basic aspect of any person’s environment. The place where you are living is going to have a significant impact on your recovery. We’re not yet referring to the people around you – we will get to them in the next section – but rather the living space itself.
The reality is that it is easiest to sustain mental wellness in an environment that is organized and structured. A home or room without too much clutter is a good start. An environment with manageable chores is even better. Unfortunately, not everyone has the privilege of a perfect space.
Some people recovering from mental illness may have to live in a small space where they have no assistance, in a shared-living home, or even in a shelter. The approach for a person in one of these situations has to differ from that of someone who has their ideal living situation. Their doctor or therapist may need to help them plan for how to make their tasks more manageable and to cope with other challenges in the space.
2. The Social Environment
Of course, the people you are surrounded with make a huge difference to your recovery as well. A social environment that is fraught with the tensions of long-held resentments is not conducive to recovery from mental illness. Similarly, friend groups which influence a person to prioritize social activity over personal wellness can inadvertently sabotage recovery.
As with the living space, this is not something everyone has total control over. For someone who has no choice but to live among a dysfunctional family while they get back on their feet, setting boundaries is going to be hugely important. Letting go of toxic friendships may also be difficult, and a person in recovery may require extra guidance to navigate this scenario.
Social isolation can be as harmful or worse than toxic relationships. Someone who has burnt their bridges during their illness, or who has to let go of toxic relationships, will need assistance from their mental health professionals in finding a new support system or chosen family.
3. The Workspace
In an ideal world, we would all choose the perfect work environment. Unfortunately, most people in the modern world only have a superficial amount of choice in this regard. After all, even if you managed to land your dream job, you might have to work with toxic colleagues or under a difficult boss. Even if you run a business, you may have to deal with problematic clients and suppliers.
The pressure to keep a boss happy is very different to the pressure to succeed in a business endeavor. This is not to say one is more difficult than the other – they are simply very different, and you need to be prepared for your specific environment.
It’s also pertinent that a person working in an office will have very different needs from treatment to someone who, for example, works on a farm. This is also the case when it comes to people who work very physical jobs as opposed to those whose work is more strategy-focused. Treatment needs to be personalized so as to take all these aspects of the work environment into account.
4. The Great Outdoors
Over the past few decades, the impact of the natural world on mental health has become more and more clear. We all know how our moods can differ based on whether it is a sunny, cloudy, or rainy day. People with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) may experience depressive episodes during times when the weather is gloomy.
No one has control over the weather, and the reality is that your vulnerability to its effects may be tied to where you live. If your city gets very few sunny days during winter, you will have to make accommodations for an extended period during which you have to manage the emotions this brings up.
Many people also do not have as much access to the natural world as others. A person living in a house with a garden will have different needs to a person living in an apartment in the middle of a city. People who live in areas where air pollution is extreme may not be able to go out as much. Consideration of the natural environment of the person in recovery is crucial for creating a sustainable treatment plan.
Treatment for mental illness needs to be personalized for a number of reasons, and the individual’s environment is a significant one. While one’s environment will not dictate the course of the recovery, it will always have an effect on it. For this reason, taking the environment into account – including the living, social, work, and natural contexts – is crucial when embarking on a sustainable recovery journey.