National Alliance on Mental Illness
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FAQs about Wellness and Mental Illness

How do I take all of this information in?

Having to worry about more than one thing is difficult, but it is crucial to educate yourself about heart risks. The more you know, the more you can modify specific risks to increase your odds of living a long and full life. NAMI Hearts & Minds proceeds with the belief that knowledge is power and that even small changes in your choices can help improve your life. Certainly, living with mental illness is quite a challenge for some people already. NAMI Hearts & Minds offers a wealth of information. You do not need to figure this all out at once-NAMI Hearts & Minds will show you how to take it one step at a time. You are worthy of a happy, healthy and long life. Knowing the risks will help you make informed choices that can make that happen. When you are ready to work on one of these areas, focus and get going.

I heard that people who live with serious mental illness live, on average, 25 years less than other Americans. Is this is scary statistic really true?

To some extent, yes. This 25-year loss-of-life number is a sobering wake-up call, but averages do not have to dictate your health or outcome. You could live to a very ripe old age if you make good choices and seek out and demand the best care available to you.

A report of state data from the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors (NASMHPD) showed that, on average, people living with serious mental illness live 25 years less than other Americans. The report counted all causes of death-including suicides, accidents and medical risks. Overall, a great deal of the medical risk was due to heart disease.

The data and report helped clarify that the American mental health community has a public health emergency that we must work to address at every level-from the individual making choices to the medical education community to public policy leadership-in order to promote better models of care integration and access to culturally adequate services.

I quit smoking, unsuccessfully, six times already! Is it really possible for me to ever quit?

Patience, focus and finding what works for you are key elements of change. Not all change happens quickly, and sometimes a new process takes practice. The fact that you have already tried to quit six times shows that you are actively working on the problem. Recognizing that quitting smoking is important is the first step.

Learn the triggers that cause you to restart smoking and see if there is a new strategy you can try to make your next attempt even better. Quitting smoking is the single greatest health change any one person can make; for more information, visit the Heart & Minds section on smoking cessation.

Are there any quick fixes? I struggle with my weight and I smoke, and I try to stay away from the doctor's office as much as I can.

Unfortunately, no. There is no quick fix.

Making smart daily choices is the key to better health. Lifestyle choices have been found to be the single most important factor in determining your pattern of general health. It isn't easy, but it is important that recognize areas for improvement and set healthy lifestyle goals. Very few people have no unhealthy behaviors. Be gentle with yourself-see if you can pick one area to work on and go for it!

I doubt I can do any of this alone. What about peer support? Could that help with all of this?

Peer support is an important aspect of individual recovery. It is a great way to help you get the support you need to improve your health. There are a lot of ways to draw support from our community. NAMI Hearts & Minds can be integrated as part of your activities in other NAMI programs, including NAMI Connection, NAMI Family-to-Family, NAMI Basics, NAMI Peer-to-Peer and even NAMIWalks. There are many online communities and message boards-many free-where you can find support for all aspects of wellness, from weight loss to smoking cessation. You may also be of tremendous help to others to provide support to another person.

One member from Concord, N.H., shared this story of her success--

"I lost over 100 pounds using peer support on We identified ourselves as living with a mental illness and supported and coached each other to help our daily choices. It made a big difference."

How can I face setting big goals and improve on my follow-through?

The first step in setting your lifestyle goals in the NAMI Hearts & Mind program is to get educated! Explore our Web site and learn about all the important dimensions of a healthy life. Then work at something you feel you are ready to change-or close to changing-already. Perhaps increasing your water intake or taking a short walk on your lunch break are things you have thought about doing. Now is the time to do them!

Goal-setting can be helpful because it allows you to identify exactly what you want to achieve and how you will achieve it. Goals will help you recognize where you have to concentrate your efforts. Remember that change does not come overnight, and that there are stages in any human change process.

The Stages of Change model shows that a change in behavior occurs gradually, with an individual moving from being uninterested, unaware or unwilling to make a change (precontemplation), to considering a change (contemplation), to deciding and preparing to make a change. Genuine, determined action is then taken and, over time, a person begins to maintain the new behavior.

The following guidelines will help you set effective goals.

  • Be focused and realistic: Ask yourself "what, when, how many and how much?" By doing this, you will know when you have achieved the goal, and you will benefit with realizing the satisfaction from having achieved it. Organize support strategies to increase your chances of success. This support could be a person who encourages you, or it could be simply shopping with a shopping list.
  • Write goals down: This crystallizes them and gives them more force. You can even stick notes in spots to help keep you motivated: on your refrigerator, mirror, computer monitor or even in your pocket.
  • Keep goals small: Keep the goals you are working toward small and achievable. If a goal is too large, it can seem that you are not making progress toward it. Take care to set goals for things you can control. Keeping goals small and incremental gives more opportunities for reward.

Here are two examples of well-defined goals:

  • "I will smoke one less cigarette, each day, for the next three weeks."
  • "For the next two months, I will get off the bus one stop before my appointment to walk the extra three blocks."

When you have achieved a goal, celebrate it. You may want to reward yourself by doing something that is meaningful to you. Take the time to reflect on what you have achieved and how it has benefitted your health. With the experience of having achieved your first goal, review how it went. Reviewing the process will help you develop your next goal or set of goals. A few things to consider are:

  • If you think you achieved your goal too easily, make your next goals more challenging.
  • If you think your goal took too long to achieve and it may have affected your motivation, make your next goal a little easier.
  • If you set a goal that you did not achieve, it is not a failure; look at it as an opportunity to reevaluate that goal to make it more achievable. Celebrate the fact that you even tried, and break it down into smaller steps for your next attempt. You would not have originally set the goal if it was not important to improving your overall health.
  • Review what supports you have in place. Do you have an exercise buddy? Have you looked into smoking cessation support or asked your doctor about nicotine replacement?

Remember that your goals will change as your health improves and you become more physically fit. Adjust them regularly to reflect your improvements.