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The 13th Century Italian Saint, Francis of Assisi, once said, “Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” Here, Assisi gives us a roadmap for success in a three-stage process. In a similar way, there are different stages of mental health. More importantly, there are ways to utilize these stages to help someone successfully recover from a mental illness.

People often view an individual’s mental illness as an overarching clinical condition. This is a fallacy. Mental illness is not a monolith, and neither is the mental health of an individual. When considering mental illness, one must also consider the types of mental illness, the potential for co-occurring mental health disorders, and the internal and external influences on their mental health. Thus, understanding the stages of mental health conditions can be especially valuable for treatment and recovery.

The Stages of Mental Illness

Perhaps the best way to approach the stages of mental illness is to think about them progressively with a focus on progressive symptoms. While many people agree there are four stages of mental illness, there are those that incorporate more stages, and even others that break the stages down into smaller pieces. However, for our purposes here, we are going to discuss the most agreed-upon model for the stages of mental health condition.

In addition, it can be helpful to understand that specific symptoms within the stages of mental illness differ from one diagnosis to the other. However, the broad concepts of the stages still primarily apply to many people suffering from mental health conditions. Furthermore, understanding these stages can be critical in getting a loved one the help they need before their mental illness progresses to a point of crisis. 

The First Stage: Warning Signs and Initial Symptoms

Often, the first stage of mental illness is the hardest to detect. This is because the initial symptoms of a mental illness are often quite minor. These symptoms are easy to write off because they can easily be seen as “quirks.” However minimal these symptoms seem, they become more and more concerning as more symptoms begin to appear and the mental illness progresses to later stages.

The first stage is crucial to identifying early warning signs. Some of these early warning signs include:

  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Beginning to show a decline at work and/or school
  • Exhibiting a greater desire to isolate and be alone

The Second Stage: Worsening Symptoms

The second stage of mental illness is when an individual’s symptoms can become more pronounced and visible. During this stage the person may become more likely to attempt to cope with their mental health via self-medicating practices. This includes using alcohol and drugs as coping mechanisms.

While turning to substances is often the most noticeable coping mechanism, and often the most destructive, it is not the only coping mechanism that can have severe side effects. The struggling person may also turn to “process behavior” to alleviate the way their mental illness is making them feel. These “process behaviors” include disordered eating, excessive gambling or internet use, and unreasonable spending. These process behaviors can lead to a “process addiction.” Now, on top of this person’s mental health struggles, addictions can further derail their emotional state. Additionally, both substance use and process behaviors can lead to the development of co-occurring disorders, which can happen in stage two of mental illness.

The Third Stage: Symptoms Disrupt Daily Life

Stage three is when the symptoms of mental illness start to become so severe that they impede their daily life. This doesn’t just affect the person struggling. Any person close to them, such as family or friends, also face significant disruptions to their daily lives. 

It is at this stage of mental illness that a lack of intervention becomes damaging in the long term to this person and those around them. This makes it critical to seek help if the symptoms of mental illness are so persistent that an individual can no longer function effectively in their life, and are hurting those around them.

The Fourth Stage: Severe Symptoms

The fourth, and often final stage of mental illness is the most severe. This stage occurs when an individual’s mental illness becomes life-threatening. It is during this stage that self-harm becomes the most likely. Additionally, aggressive behavior toward others and lashing out at situations also become more frequent.

As stage four progresses the potential for suicidal ideations escalates and may result in attempts. While it can be crucial to seek help if the first three stages of mental illness appear, it can be life-savingly critical to get help during the fourth stage.

Healing From the Stages of Mental Illness With the Phoenix Recovery Center

Here at the Phoenix Recovery Center, we can help people recover no matter which of the stages of mental health an individual may be experiencing. We have the means and evidence-based treatment to help begin the recovery process at any stage.

Yes, there are indeed stages of mental mental health conditions. However, it is also true that there are stages of healing. The Phoenix Recovery Center can help take you or a loved one through those stages and get you to the most important stage of all; the stage of long-term recovery. For more information on the stages of mental health, please reach out to The Phoenix Recovery Center today at (801) 438-3185.

The Phoenix Recovery Center
489 W. South Jordan Pkwy
Suite 400
South Jordan, UT