Strategies for Success

Understanding Mental Health Relapse

People with serious mental health conditions, like schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder, will have good times when symptoms are managed, and they are feeling strong. However, sometimes people experience challenging times or setbacks when symptoms worsen.

These setbacks are called “relapses” and can often lead to hospitalization or other serious consequences.

One of the most common causes of relapse is stopping medication, but relapses can happen even if a person is taking his or her medication as prescribed.

Developing skills and coping mechanisms can help you deal with the everyday challenges of living with a serious mental health condition.

Relapse Triggers

Some situations or behaviors—called triggers—can lead to a relapse. Knowing your triggers can help you develop strategies to deal with them and reduce the risk of relapse. Triggers are different for everyone, but can include:

  • Stopping medication or not taking medication as prescribed
  • Using drugs and/or alcohol
  • Being under stress or overwhelmed
  • Conflict in relationships
  • Illness or death of a loved one
  • Other major life changes

Relapse Warning Signs

Some relapses can happen quickly, but many relapses happen gradually, over time. Some signs are subtle and can be hard to notice, while others are more obvious. By learning to recognize warning signs, you can get help early and avoid a full-blown crisis.

Mental Health Relapse warning

Some signs to look for include:

  • Too much or too little sleep
  • Stopping medication or not taking it regularly
  • Feeling tense, nervous, or hostile
  • Social withdrawal or isolation (not going to work)
  • Decline in personal hygiene (not taking care of yourself)
  • Increase in paranoia, hallucinations, or hearing voices
  • Confusing or nonsensical speech
  • False beliefs or delusions (thinking people are against you, being overconfident in your abilities)
  • Increase in risk-taking behaviors (spending money, using alcohol/drugs)

If You Notice Any Warning Signs of Relapse, Call the Doctor Right Away

Strategies to reduce relapse include:

Print out the Treatment and Recovery Log as well as the Understanding Mental Health Relapse worksheet, where you can record your mental health journey, triggers, and warning signs.