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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.” Ultimately, here Assisi gives us a roadmap for success in a three-stage process. In a similar way, there are different stages of mental illness. 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 that mental illness. Thus, understanding the stages of mental illness 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 in a progressive manner with a focus on progressive symptoms. It is also important to note that while many people agree with the idea that there are four stages of mental illness, there are others that incorporate more stages, and even others that break the stages down into smaller pieces. However, for the purposes here, we are going to discuss the most agreed upon four-stage model.

In addition, it can be helpful to understand that the 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 across the board. Furthermore, understanding these stages can be critical in getting a loved one the help they need before their mental illness progresses to the most detrimental symptoms.

The First Stage: Warning Signs of Initial Symptoms

Often, the first stage of mental illness is the hardest to detect. This is because the initial symptoms of a mental illness can be very minor. Also, the symptoms can be very minimal as more symptoms will only begin to appear as the mental illness progresses to the other stages.

Still, this is the stage where identifying slight warning signs can be very crucial. Some 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

Next, the second stage of mental illness is when an individual’s symptoms can become more pronounced and thus more visible. It is at this point that an individual may become more likely to attempt to cope with their mental illness via self-medicating practices. This includes using alcohol and/or other drugs as coping mechanisms.

It is essential to recognize that using substances is not the only destructive coping mechanism that a person may turn to in stage two. They may also turn to “process behavior” to alleviate the way their mental illness is making them feel. These behaviors – which include disordered eating, excessive gambling or internet use, and unreasonable spending – can also lead to a “process addiction.” Further, 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 Continually Disrupt Daily Life

Stage three is when the symptoms of mental illness start to become so severe that they begin impeding daily life. Also, it is important to note that this impediment doesn’t just happen to the individual struggling’s daily life; it also can also affect the loved ones in their personal orbit.

It is at this stage of mental illness that a lack of intervention can become damaging in the long term. 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.

The Fourth Stage: The Presence of Severe Symptoms

Now, the fourth stage of mental illness is the most severe. This stage occurs when an individual’s mental illness ultimately becomes life-threatening. Moreover, this is when self-harm becomes the most likely. Additionally, aggressive behavior toward others and lashing out at situations also become more likely.

Stage four is also when the potential for suicidal ideations and attempts becomes very real. 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 what stage of mental illness an individual may be at. We have the means and evidence-based treatment modalities that can help begin the recovery process at any stage.

Yes, it is true that there are stages of mental illness. 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