Study Finds That People Can Recover and Thrive After Mental Illness and Substance-Use Disorders

Summary: Contrary to previous research, a new study reveals a prior history of mental health disorders or substance abuse does not prevent a person from thriving and leading a high-functioning life.

Source: APS

Past research on mental illness has focused mostly on chronic and recurring mood, anxiety, and substance-use disorders that keep people from thriving and enjoying life.

New research published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science, however, reports that many people who have suffered from mental illness are able to thrive and lead a high-functioning life.

“Our research tells us how many people can recover from a mental illness and go on to experience a life with high levels of well-being and functioning,” said Andrew Devendorf, a researcher at the University of South Florida and lead author of the article.

“Contrary to traditional clinical wisdom, we found that mental illness and substance-use disorders may reduce but do not prevent the possibility of thriving.”

The researchers also found that having longer episodes of mental illness or experiencing multiple mental illnesses in one’s lifetime reduces, but does not eliminate, the chances of thriving.

Data for this research came from the 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey—Mental Health, a nationally representative survey that included more than 25,000 Canadian participants aged 15 to 80 and older.

The survey collected information about participants’ lifetime and 12-month mental health status, their access to and perceived need for formal and informal services and supports, their functioning and disabilities, and other factors that influence mental health.

Devendorf and his colleagues compared the mental health conditions tracked in the survey and other data associated with each participant’s quality of life, including their social relationships, positive emotions, perceived quality of life, and functioning (ability to fulfill life roles).

The researchers then calculated how many people with a lifetime history of mental illness—including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or substance-use disorder—met “thriving” criteria at the time of the study.

To count as thriving after depression, a person not only had to be free of the major symptoms of depression, they also had to report better well-being than 75% of non-depressed adults surveyed in the United States. “We set a very high bar for thriving,” said Devendorf.

The results of the comparison showed that about 10% of Canadians with a history of mental illness met thriving criteria, compared to about 24% of Canadians who did not have a history of mental illness. People with a history of substance-use disorders (10%), depression (7%), and anxiety (6%) were more likely to thrive compared to people with a history of bipolar disorder (3%).

This shows a happy woman with her arms outstretched at sunset
The researchers also found that having longer episodes of mental illness or experiencing multiple mental illnesses in one’s lifetime reduces, but does not eliminate, the chances of thriving. Image is in the public domain

“These findings show that mental illnesses reduce—but do not preclude—the possibility to meet thriving criteria,” said Devendorf. “Although thriving after mental illness was not necessarily common, it should be noted that diagnostic recoveries after mental illness were much more common.”

The study found that about two thirds (67%) of people with any mental illness in their lifetime met symptomatic recovery, meaning they no longer met the diagnostic criteria for a particular illness. The rate at which people recover from mental illness and attain moderate to good, rather than optimal, levels of well-being is likely much higher, the researchers speculate.

“While we know traditional mental health treatments, like therapy and medication, can reduce mental illness symptoms, there is a lack of research on how treatments affect outcomes like well-being and functioning,” said Devendorf. “Now that we know thriving is possible after mental illness, we hope that researchers will begin to investigate how existing treatments can increase the chance for thriving after mental illness.”

About this mental health research news

Author: Press Office
Source: APS
Contact: Press Office – APS
Image: The image is in the public domain

Original Research: Closed access.
Optimal Well-Being After Psychopathology: Prevalence and Correlates” by Andrew R. Devendorf et al. Clinical Psychological Science


Optimal Well-Being After Psychopathology: Prevalence and Correlates

Optimal functioning after psychopathology is understudied. We report the prevalence of optimal well-being (OWB) following recovery after depression, suicidal ideation, generalized anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, and substance use disorders.

Using a national Canadian sample (N = 23,491), we operationalized OWB as absence of 12-month psychopathology, coupled with scoring above the 25th national percentile on psychological well-being and below the 25th percentile on disability measures. Compared with 24.1% of participants without a history of psychopathology, 9.8% of participants with a lifetime history of psychopathology met OWB.

Adults with a history of substance use disorders (10.2%) and depression (7.1%) were the most likely to report OWB. Persons with anxiety (5.7%), suicidal ideation (5.0%), bipolar I (3.3%), and bipolar II (3.2%) were less likely to report OWB. Having a lifetime history of just one disorder increased the odds of OWB by a factor of 4.2 relative to having a lifetime history of multiple disorders.

Although psychopathology substantially reduces the probability of OWB, many individuals with psychopathology attain OWB.

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  1. Thank you.
    I have mental illness- sociopathic mental illness-. I think it is nurtured due to my work.
    My job is to interact and interfere with a research subject in order to collect data for mind-control, disease cure& prevention,3Dprint, diagnostic device, BCI, digital brain, artificial organs, AI, etc..through torture, v2K=the same symptoms ( HAHAHA)- hi, Dr. Wang (mental hospital in Raleigh, NC) remember me? You knew the ugly truth behind me and looked so cynical-
    Since stealing data for my career, I came to have sociopathic mental illness. They say that it is so dangerous because I have no capacity to feel other’s pain, suffering, life loss, emotion, feeling.
    Oh, Dr Freud Mangal Genius, what can I do? How can I restore my conscience, humanity and emotional intelligence? Without them I can harm to others, people say.
    I need your advice.People say that law-breaking data collectors should be punished because their negative effect is more than that of benefit for the human society in the long run.
    Please let me know how to restore my conscience. I want to restore conscience. I don’t really want be cancer in my community.

  2. Addiction: At the age of 45, I started seeing myself crossover into alcoholism. One drink of wine, one unhappy marriage of 29 years, two kids off to college, on a mild dose of an anti-depressant, perimenopausal became my “perfect storm.” I had no idea that a side effect of anti-depressants is a catalyst to enhance the effects of alcohol.

    I went and got diagnosed by the Cleveland Clinic. I was diagnosed with alcoholism. I became terrified as a well-educated woman; I dealt with the fear by consuming more wine! I became defensive. How could an average drinker go from that to a full-blown alcoholic?

    After putting myself into three rehabs, I finally quit drinking. Seven years ago was the end of my active addiction. I attended AA meetings a week and became an advocate to change the way people view addiction. Finally, I learned addiction tells one to keep drinking. Addiction is similar to psychosis. I heard the lies of addiction, telling me I don’t have an addiction. I had a civil war that made it so difficult to quit. I realized I was committing slow suicide. Yes, three bottles a night for a year, blackouts, and no driving except for a driver picking me up to buy more wine.
    Once I came forward to my family about my disease, I learned my father and brother quit drinking themselves. Yes, they drank every day since they were teenagers!

    Stop the stigma! Stigma kills! Compassion, support, education, and recovery can happen! Please k

  3. Hello my name is Jake, and im 31. I was diagnosed with psychotic issues borderline schizophrenia. I went threw some battles but I will say this, i dont like the effects of the pills so ive only taken about a years worth of medication and i think im completely normal again and ive been this way for 3 years. I personally think someone should know that some people only need temporarily doses, not for longterm dollars in big pharmaceutical. Thank you

  4. Thank you for this amazing article!!? I have a mental illness and had an addiction for 20 until I turned my life around 4 years ago! Now it is my dream and goal to help others change and find happiness. Drugs were all I knew. My mom started using with me at 16 along with aunts and uncles of mine. I thought YOU weren’t normal if you didn’t do drugs!!! Thank goodness I chose LIFE!! Now I love waking up and I am an amazing mom to my kids and I’ve broken the cycle in my family!!!❤️? Thank you so much for reading my story! Find me on YouTube @DanaLyn and on TikTok @BreakingTheCycleMom

  5. “After mental illness.” After anxiety and depression sure. There is no after bipolar. No after schizophrenia, no after ADHD.

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