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Transitioning back to everyday life after residential mental health treatment can be a challenging and vulnerable time for individuals, as they navigate the complexities of managing their mental health outside of a structured environment. However, when they have a strong support system, they’re more likely to feel a sense of stability, understanding and encouragement – helping them feel less isolated and more empowered. Plus, a support system can also provide accountability – ensuring individuals stay connected to their treatment goals and seek help when needed.

To see how you can be an important influence and provide meaningful support in life after residential mental health treatment, explore practical strategies and insights that are tried, true and expert approved.

  • Understand recovery is a process. According to SAMHSA, the word “recovery” has a working definition – a mere starting point for further discussion, exploration and research. It’s a flexible framework that can be refined and adjusted as more information becomes available or as perspectives evolve, which goes to show what a dynamic and personal process it is. With that in mind, those who can see recovery as a journey, not a destination, will find it easier to show patience, encouragement and reassurance – all of which are essential for someone reintegrating into this new reality.
  • Validate your loved one’s journey. Experts in dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) say it’s essential to validate others’ experiences and emotions without judgment – offering support and empathy instead – as it can confirm feelings, fosters respect and strengthen relationships. 
  • Recognize support is not control. While caregivers can offer guidance, suggestions, and input, they can’t make decisions for a loved one. Instead of swooping in to solve their problems, try to find a healthy balance between being overbearing and empowering. Treat them with dignity and respect, and trust them to use their new skills and strategies to commit to their recovery. According to our Laura Mueller, LMSW and our Director of Admissions, setting these healthy boundaries allows an individual to be accountable for their recovery and helps the family system begin to heal. 
  • Encourage open and honest conversations. During this transitional period, open communication allows for the sharing of thoughts, feelings and experiences, which can help strengthen relationships and build trust. We also recommend developing shared language around describing symptoms and coping strategies, so caregivers can better understand and support their loved one’s needs. Finally, remember mental health challenges affect not only the individual receiving treatment, but also their family members, including siblings and grandparents. Maintaining open communication with them, as well, will help everyone navigate the emotional complexities together. 
  • Watch for warning signs. Despite everyone’s best efforts, setbacks can happen. In order to be as proactive as possible, we strongly recommend participating in discharge and crisis planning meetings to learn what to watch for – like changes in behavior, isolation, withdrawal, or sudden shifts in mood or demeanor – and to help develop a plan for monitoring and intervening, if necessary.
  • Avoid shame and blame. Recovery is a journey filled with ups and downs. When your loved one is at a low point, remember this is not reflection of your worth as a caregiver. (Read that one more time, if you need a reminder.) On difficult days, try not to place blame or guilt on yourself or your loved one and, instead, focus on the future. Consider constructive solutions, greet them with love and compassion, and give yourself unlimited grace.
  • Prioritize your own well-being. NAMI says, “To be able to care for the people you love, you must first take care of yourself.” Be sure to seek out the support, understanding and relief you need, continue pursuing your own outside interests and hobbies, and schedule regular time for self-care and relaxation. Because by maintaining your own health and happiness, you’ll be better equipped to meet your loved one’s needs and help them succeed.
  • Have hope. The belief that recovery is possible can be a beacon of hope for individuals emerging from residential mental health treatment. When they sense it within peers, families, healthcare providers, allies and others, it serves as a powerful and motivating affirmation that a brighter future is possible – that they have the strength and resistance to overcome the challenges of their illness.

By offering support that is grounded in empathy and guided by best practices, you can play a crucial role in your loved one’s ongoing recovery journey and help pave the way for a brighter, more hopeful future.

Questions about life after residential mental health treatment? Please feel free to contact us.