Mental Illness Treatment vs. Wellness Promotion

Managing depression: Illness treatment and wellness promotion strategies

One of the things I talk about in my new book, Managing the Depression Puzzle, is the idea of differentiating between illness treatment strategies and wellness promotion strategies. I think it’s a distinction that applies to mental illness in general. So, what’s the difference?

Illness treatment

I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir here, but mental illness is an actual illness, and often a very serious kind of illness. Treatment strategies need to be targeted specifically to the illness in question, with the goal of controlling the symptoms and reducing the risk of relapse. For mental illness, treatment often involves antidepressants or therapy.

The most appropriate type of treatment is going to depend on the severity of the illness. More severe episodes of illness may need multiple medications plus therapy, or perhaps somatic treatments electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) or transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). Depending on the illness, milder episodes may be manageable without specific treatment strategies.

Wellness promotion

Wellness promotion strategies are those that would help anyone improve their overall health and wellbeing, like physical activity, self-care, a balanced, nutritious diet, and work-life balance. These are the kinds of activities that can elevate you from being okay to really feeling well. Supplementing illness treatment strategies with wellness promotion strategies can help to maximize the benefits from each.

There are different ways of conceptualizing wellness, and this post looks at the wheel of wellness.

These are some of my own wellness promotion tools:

  • tracking factors related to my mental health in my bullet journal
  • blogging – it’s therapeutic in multiple ways, including self-expression, exercising my brain, and the peer support of the blogging community
  • my emotional assistance guinea pigs
  • restorative yoga
  • mindful nature walks

Separating the two

Sometimes, you’ll come across people who presumably want to be helpful, but instead, just come across as obnoxious when they tell you that to manage your serious mental illness, you just need to eat more rutabagas. And okay, maybe rutabaga isn’t the exact suggestion they’re making, but I just like the sound of it. The actual point I’m trying to get at is that when people suggest wellness strategies as treatments for illness, it comes across as invalidating and minimizing the severity of the illness, which really isn’t helpful for anybody.

Now, is it healthy to eat rutabagas? Presumably.  Does eating rutabagas mean you can quit therapy or meds? Absolutely not. It’s all a matter of keeping in perspective what role each thing is supposed to play.

Similarly, illness treatment strategies on their own most likely aren’t going to be enough to obtain optimal health and wellbeing. You’ll probably want to include some self-care, maybe go to yoga class, and even eat a few rutabagas.

Finding balance

Finding a balance between the two will depend on what the illness is up to. The sicker you are, the more important it is to focus on treatment strategies. When the illness is under control and treatment is mostly a matter of maintenance, it’s a good time to work on incorporating more wellness promotion strategies.

It would be great if dealing with mental illness required only a single tool, but that’s just not the reality. The more tools we have, and the more diverse they are, the better we’re likely to be able to manage what our illnesses throw at us at different points along the way.

So, illness treatment and wellness promotion are both good things, but they also do different things. Maybe what we need to do is to start carrying around rutabagas to throw at the next person who suggests going for walks will get rid of your mental illness (okay, maybe that’s just me). I had to look up what rutabagas look like, but I think I could easily carry a few around in my purse.

book cover: Managing the Depression Puzzle, 2nd Edition, by Ashley L. Peterson

Managing the Depression Puzzle takes a holistic look at the different potential pieces that might fit into your unique depression puzzle.

It’s available on Amazon and Google Play.

35 thoughts on “Mental Illness Treatment vs. Wellness Promotion”

  1. I had to google ‘rutabagas.’ We call them swedes or turnips.

    I feel that I’m stuck somewhere in the middle. My depression isn’t as paralysingly bad as it used to be. OTOH, I’m not exactly in maintenance and wellness promotion either, as there’s still a significant negative daily effect of depression. I use some strategies from each column to keep going.

      1. I’m not sure. If you go to my blog, there should be a ‘follow’ button around somewhere (usually on the right hand side near the bottom), although you may need to move your cursor around a bit to make it appear. Otherwise I think it is possible to manually enter a blog into your reader, but it’s a bit complicated to explain in text.

  2. I read your book and found it so useful! Thanks 😊
    I’ve decided I’m going to reduce my antidepressants slowly over the next few months and see how it goes. My aim is to get to September med free. X

  3. I am not sure which would be easier to do, consume rutabagas or involve myself in “real” wellness strategies. I think getting out of the house, when you’re at home, is a great thing to do under normal circumstances. From there, the sky is the limit. I know this, yet I struggle. Again, under normal circumstance.

    1. What’s workable will definitely vary from person to person, and also depending on fluctuations in illness intensity over time. All we can do is work with what we’ve got.

  4. This is such a good post and should be known by everybody! Especially my gp. As a matter of fact, stores are not that filled due to Corona and all was left, were some turnips. I bought them, I’ve got the ammunition. I feel it’s going to be very good for my self-expression to follow all of your advice 😁

  5. Nice post! Exercising wellness promotion strategies can be really empowering. They’re also necessary activities that link us all. People without mental illness need to manage their mental wellness as well, and so we can share in this common ground. 😀

  6. I never thought about it that way… That is why the advice of, “Get some exercise!”, when I am feeling unwell riles me up.
    I think I focus too much on illness treatment and not enough wellness treatment… A combination of the two is definitely the way to go.
    Thanks for another interesting post.

  7. I’m going to fill a pillowcase with rutabagas and carry that around and just hit people over the head with it when they tell me I need more exercise and vegetables

  8. This is a helpful way of separating them. I may use this idea if I need to explain things or the severity of something to friends in the future! Thank you! I think I do mainly wellness-promotion currently, except for therapy, which is definitely treatment. Filling out my diary card and using skills, I think, falls somewhere in the middle, because many skills would probably be helpful for everyone, but maybe I use them more purposefully than people who don’t have an illness?

    Also, I love the pastel colors in your picture! 😍

  9. I like the way you distinguish the two and emphasize the ideas behind both . However , can you intertwine the two ?

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