Measuring Progress in Mental Illness Recovery

March 24, 2021 Annabelle Clawson

I'm not great at mental illness recovery. How do I know I'm getting better? A lot of the time, I can't even see progress. I think I'm improving, and then my mental health takes a dive. It feels like this will never end. And maybe it won't. I will probably deal with mental illness for the rest of my life, so I've found some useful tools for measuring my progress in mental illness recovery.

Keep a Diary to Measure Progress in Recovery

Most of the time, for me, keeping a diary looks like writing in the Notes app on my phone. I document the good and the bad. When I achieve something worth celebrating, like making my bed in the morning, I put it on a list of small victories. When anxiety decides to make an appearance, I try to describe what I'm feeling and have a conversation with myself in writing.

Every so often, I go back and read through what I've written. I can tell I'm in a much better place today because what used to be a small victory is now a normal habit and my thoughts during panic attacks are less dark and more grounded than they used to be.

Ask a Friend to Point Out Progress in Mental Illness Recovery

A few weeks ago, my sister sent me a picture from a couple of years ago when my depression was quite severe. In the photo, I'm under the covers in my bed, the blinds are tightly shut, and every inch of the floor is covered in clothes, books, bags, among other things. That picture reminded me of the progress I've made since then. I had honestly forgotten how bad depression used to be for me before I had found the right medication and learned useful coping skills.

Your friends and family have seen you in the throes of mental illness and in the process of recovery. Ask them what changes they've noticed in your demeanor or habits. If you have a therapist or psychiatrist, you can also ask them how they've seen you change.

Self-Reflection for Mental Illness Recovery

While friends and family can be extremely helpful, especially when you're feeling self-critical, the only person who has been there with you 100 percent of the time is yourself. When you're in the right headspace, taking some time to reflect can help you measure your progress in recovery.

I've found that asking myself reflective, open-ended questions highlights my progress. Here are a few that have been helpful for me:

  • How have I developed more empathy for others?
  • How have I improved at recognizing and responding to my emotions?
  • What have I learned about the meaningful things in life?

Progress Looks Different for Everyone

I've learned to look at everything as part of my "recovery," even though I might fall back a bit at times. I avoid comparing myself to someone else, even if we suffer from the same illness. I also avoid measuring my success based on things that are quantifiable, like how many social events I go to or how many days I make it to class. These things can quickly lead to shame if I'm not careful. So, I stay away from it and focus on the attributes I've developed and the lessons I've learned. 

Recovery is not a linear process, so don't be hard on yourself if you're in a valley right now and feel like you're moving backward. Be patient and keep things in perspective.

APA Reference
Clawson, A. (2021, March 24). Measuring Progress in Mental Illness Recovery, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 19 from

Author: Annabelle Clawson

Find Annabelle on Facebook, Instagram and her personal blog.

Leave a reply