Understanding Dissociative Disorders and “Mental Relapse”. When the term “relapse” comes up, the first thing that most people think of is an addiction relapse. However, what many people do not realize is that there is also something known as a “mental relapse.” This is when a mental health recovery plan is no longer working (this can be due to any number of reasons) and the symptoms of the mental illness return. Also, this happens with mental health disorders across the board, including when understanding dissociative disorders. Ultimately, a better understanding of mental relapses helps us to better understand mental health disorders, and better understand dissociative disorders.
What Does Relapse Mean in Mental Health?
A mental relapse is harder to pin down than an addiction relapse because a mental relapse is about reappearing symptoms rather than taking a physical drink or a drug (not that emotional relapse doesn’t also happen before that drink or substance). It is hard to quantify a mental relapse because it varies based on the disorder, and it varies based on how many symptoms return.
According to the article, Recognizing Relapse, released by the UNC Department of Psychology, “If symptoms seem to get worse, or symptoms that had been in remission reappear, the person may be in relapse. Relapse is sometimes caused by a new source of stress or an old source of stress that has gotten worse. And, sometimes, a relapse can happen for no apparent reason, even if a person is closely following his or her doctor’s instructions.”
These mental relapses can also happen well after an individual has gone through treatment for their mental illness. This is also true for those struggling with dissociative disorders. In fact, a mental relapse can be more prevalent in people struggling with dissociative disorders because dissociative disorders deal with repressed trauma, some of which may be missed during an initial round of treatment.
Understanding Dissociative Disorders
Dissociative disorders are not as prevalent as other mental health disorders, but those who struggle with them face some significant and disruptive symptoms. According to The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), “Dissociative disorders are characterized by an involuntary escape from reality characterized by a disconnection between thoughts, identity, consciousness, and memory. People from all age groups and racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds can experience a dissociative disorder.” Also, “Up to 75% of people experience at least one depersonalization/derealization episode in their lives, with only 2% meeting the full criteria for chronic episodes.”
When understanding dissociative disorders, one must understand that there are three primary types. These are dissociative identity disorder (until recently, most commonly known as “multiple personality disorder”), depersonalization/derealization disorder, and dissociative disorder; all of which have both unique and universal characteristics, and all of which have the potential for mental relapse.
Understanding Dissociative Disorders and Mental Relapse
When it comes to understanding dissociative disorders and mental relapse, it is important to understand how they are most commonly treated. The primary way that dissociative disorders are treated is via psychotherapy such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). They are also commonly treated with medications such as antipsychotic medications, anti-anxiety medications, and antidepressants.
When these treatments are being utilized, it is much less likely that a mental relapse is going to occur. However, if there is a disruption or a person chooses to discontinue these therapies, the chance of relapse goes up exponentially.
It is important to understand that just like issues of addiction, issues of mental health are chronic, and chronic disorders are never fully “cured.” Rather, the symptoms are put into remission and tools are put in place to keep them there. When these tools go away or stop working, then a mental relapse may occur.
The Signs of a Mental Relapse
Now, just like an addiction relapse, a mental relapse rarely happens all of a sudden. Just like addiction relapse, mental relapse is often a “process,” rather than an event.” Individuals may be at risk of a mental relapse if they:
- Start isolating away from family and friends
- Have difficulty with sleep patterns, including sleeping too much or sleeping too little (insomnia)
- Stop taking their medication, and/or refilling their prescriptions
- Appear more anxious or depressed than normal
- Stop engaging in therapy
- Have difficulty expressing their emotions
- Express having feelings of self-harm and/or suicide
The iconic American author and philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson, once said, “What lies behind you and what lies in front of you, pales in comparison to what lies inside of you.” This embodies our goal here at The Phoenix Recovery Center; to show people the strength that is inside of them so they can take that strength out into the world and live the lives that they both want and deserve.