Mental Illness Recovery: Life-Writing Workshop Found Helpful, According to Study

life-writing and other 7 steps to mental illness recovery
A man is busy with journal writing. Creative arts like life writing can play an important role in mental health and social care provision of mentally ill patients.

Do you, or someone in your family, have bouts of depression, panic disorder, severe disturbances or changes in memory, consciousness and identity? Telling a story from your life circumstances and putting it down on paper can help. A life-writing workshop conducted by an Australian fiction writer on individuals with mental illness in Brisbane revealed a positive effect on their recovery.

The therapeutic benefit of writing, particularly for people who have gone through stressful or traumatic life experiences, has been studied before. The good outcome of the workshop conducted by creative practitioner Philip Max Neilsen on a small group opened avenues for further research, like the conduct of art therapy or storytelling/writing workshops digitally. The latter is well-suited for those who lack mobility or who live in far-flung areas.

Beyond being used as a personal expression, life writing refers to creating a narrative construction, not just a venting of emotions. Recovery, in this case, refers more to empowering a person grappling with mental illness to live meaningfully in a chosen community, while realizing individual potential.

The role of creative arts in easing anxiety & reversing despair in those with mental illness

It turns out putting down one’s thoughts in a written, structured fashion can have huge payoffs in helping people take charge of their lives. Experts inferred that by organizing and putting structure to one’s thought processes, the emotional effects arising from that can be positive or useful. People tend to perceive things in a more manageable way.

In working with mentally ill patients at a drop-in center in Logan, Brisbane, Philip Neilsen assessed first the workshop participants’ personalities and degree of engagement. Neilsen, who has written  short stories, and scholarly books, has focused on creative writing arts therapy for people with schizophrenia and other mental illness types. The positive reception to Neilsen’s life-writing workshop was taken as a vital first step that can lead to recovery.

For that study he carried, published in A Journal of Media and Culture, Neilsen collaborated with experienced psychologists and revised his workshop kit in order to cushion any negative impact of recounting traumatic events may have on the subjects with mental illness. At the end of the activity, he deduced that life-writing can engage and also enhance a sense of self and identity. That, in turn, can be a route or jump-off point to recovery.

Corroborating the Pilot Study

Social theorist Helen Spandler discovered strong evidence that participation in creative activity promoted a sense of purpose and meaning, and assisted in “rebuilding an identity within and beyond that of someone with mental health difficulties.”

Yet life-writing as a therapeutic option for the mentally ill cannot be viewed as a “one-size-fits-all” treatment option. A creative arts activity should not be imposed on or deemed as a good thing for all individuals with mental illness. Nonetheless, some participation of people with moderate to severe mental health problems in a creative activity like writing and group storytelling can help reverse an enduring sense of hopelessness or despair. As social researchers maintain, a recovery approach should not discount the potential contribution of a stimulating creative endeavor.

Strategies Taken By Some People With Panic Disorder

Dealing with a person’s inner workings can be a complicated thing. Those who have successfully battled or are still dealing with mental illness can attest to the fact that having a mental health problem can be stressful, exhausting, and terrifying. Experts have said it cannot be simply reduced to removing the “stigma.” Nonetheless, global campaigns to instill greater awareness and understanding of mental health, such as what British royals Kate Middleton espouse, can help pave the path to recovery.

While outside professional help or traditional medical intervention can help a person battle his or her inner “demons,” a resolve to get better and take action for one’s best interest can be just as crucial. Actress Amanda Seyfried, for instance, recently tweeted that she is “no mental health expert” but considers herself “well-educated” on her own struggles and discoveries.

Mental illness like panic attacks affects an increasing number of people in the US, Europe, and Asia as well as other parts of the world. We would hear of different people recounting their first anxiety attacks that usually occur during their childhood or adolescent years. The panic disorder, characterized by severe anxiety and intense fear over having the next attacks, will not go away on its own.

In the case of La La Land actress Emma Stone, she recalled she needed reassurance from an immediate family member, particularly her mom, that no one was going to die and nothing was going to change. Emma recounted that for her, a panacea has been acting. She said in interviews that the “immediacy” of a creative pursuit like acting kept her mind off of anxiety-provoking thoughts. Acting, she said, let her focus on the tasks at hand, rather than dwell on her fears.

Practicing mindfulness certainly helps many people quell day-to-day anxieties. But learning to focus on things that are happening in the moment can help individuals gain perspective and realize that they are going through something difficult, but which can eventually be resolved.

Overcoming Labels and Other Hurdles That Come With Having Mental Health Issues

Being diagnosed with a mental health disorder can lead to a gnawing feeling of emptiness or of not belonging, a fear of interacting with others, or worse, a fear of life itself. The good news is, there is a way for people to reclaim their lives from the loneliness and isolation that come with being labeled as having a mental illness. Recovery will not happen overnight, more so because we live in a society that has not truly embraced mental illness, distress and madness, but it can be done.

Some of the ways for people with any of a wide range of mental illness or issues can battle inner demons, reclaim their lives and take the path to recovery are:

  1. recognize that you have a mental illness or condition that may require some interventions that can lead to recovery.
  2. strive not to let your mental health issues define you. Your life is a whole lot more than the diagnosis that your doctor has given.
  3. seek therapy/consult a certified professional.
  4. stick to a mentally boosting and nourishing meal plan.
  5. practice techniques to enhance mindfulness, like meditation.
  6. take part in a creative activity like writing a journal.
  7. overcome recurring fear by seeking refuge in God.

Disclaimer: Citizen Oracle does not guarantee any method perceived to be effective. Neither do we encourage on administering them, especially when done alone. We welcome and gladly report any research and study that aim to help and improve human health. But we believe that the effectiveness of methods should first be verified by authorized health organizations and other medical bodies. Citizen Oracle and the author of this article will not be held responsible for any harm to you and to other people, in any way, as a result of reading this report.

Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

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