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The benefits of having experienced mental illness

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It feels almost flippant to be talking about the benefits of having experienced mental distress – a ‘Pollyanna’ take on people’s very real suffering - but for many people, learning to live with mental distress means finding that silver lining. 

Looking on the bright side is one way of acknowledging the strength it takes to recover from experiences of bipolar, depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and other forms of mental distress. It means using those strengths to rebuild your life, move past the challenge of discrimination and change the attitudes of those around you. 

As one tangata whaiora says: “Even on my worst days, there are still positives. There are still reasons I don't wish I was a different person.”  

Here are some of the benefits tangata whaiora have mentioned: 

  • Learning to say ‘no’: if you are good at something, then people ask you to do more, and the stress of meeting those obligations builds up over time.
  • Not sweating the small stuff: not caring about what you eat for dinner or whether you need a bigger television or a new car.
  • Focussing on what matters most: you understand how fragile life is. Rather than lapsing into habits/ruts, you focus on what is essential to your happiness – you can’t afford not to.
  • Stronger relationships: having the support of your family, friends and colleagues and recognising the time you have with them is invaluable.
  • Mindfulness: you practice being in the now and try not to get caught up in any spiralling or negative thoughts.
  • Appreciating the importance of good physical health: making time to exercise each day helps to keep you mentally healthy.
  • Empathising with others who experience mental distress: because you are more self-aware and in touch with your own thoughts and feelings, you are more intuitive and understanding when it comes to other people and what they might be going through in life.
  • Not caring so much about what people think: no longer worrying about saying something that impacts other people’s view of you.
  • Being less judgemental: being at the receiving end of stigma and discrimination, and knowing what some people still think about those experiencing mental distress, means you are less likely to be a judgemental person yourself. It becomes a lot easier both to forgive and to anticipate mistakes from others.
  • Having more willpower and self-control: the strength of character it takes to recover from an experience of mental distress can be reapplied in all sorts of other personal and professional situations.
  • Creativity: you think outside the box and use art, music, writing and performance to express your feelings and experiences to others.
  • Productivity: having experienced how hard it can be to take time out to relax and do next to nothing while you are recovering – it is a blessing to get back into life. To participate and give your all to your work or studies. 

Remember:  “It's not a death sentence and your mental illnesses don't define you. You have a lot to offer, and a lot of great things to do and learn because of your experience with a mental illness.”(Kendra Kantor) 

We’d love to hear from people who have found a silver lining in their experience of mental distress – feel free to get in touch and share your story with us.