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If experiencing a mental health problem were plotted like a line on a graph, it might look like a low-level shallow wave, or a dramatic fall and rise with a few roller coaster bumps scattered in between. When people who have made it through a mental health struggle describe their experience, there is often an inflection point when something “clicked” and they started to feel better.

In her book Little Treatments, Big Effects, clinical psychology professor and therapist Dr. Jessica Schleider writes about her research into single-session interventions for mental health care. Through surveying and interviewing 98 people and analyzing their stories, Schleider identified five “pathways to hope”—elements from stories of mental health recovery that represented the turning point from struggling to wellness:

Schleider defines these turning points as “specific, brief moments that made a lasting impact on [the]journey toward mental health.”

“The clearest connector across virtually all the turning points was the experience of realizing hope that change might be possible, where little such hope had existed before,” Schleider wrote.

If we extrapolate a bit more, someone experiencing mental health problems may find it beneficial to look for—and even actively cultivate—these “pathways to hope” as a way to help break them out of a funk. If you are living with depression, anxiety, addiction, obsessive compulsive disorder, or other psychological problems, there are ways to try and create your own turning point toward recovery.

Pathways to hope

Surprising yourself 

This means doing something, even something very small, that you once believed you could not do. You not only get a confidence boost from doing the hard thing, you gain evidence that thinking something is impossible is not proof that it’s impossible.

  • Try a skill you learned in therapy. Even if your therapist’s suggestion makes your eyes roll, give it a try. Their techniques are usually research-backed.

  • Go out and do something that you are nervous about. By coping in a new environment more successfully than you thought you would, you learn that your anxiety is not a reliable predictor of how dangerous new situations really are.

  • Face a fear. It might look like exposure therapy with a professional or DIYing your own exposure experience. Exposure therapy can be helpful for anxiety, OCD, or PTSD.

Feeling seen 

When you share your experience and receive validation from others, feeling understood can shed a layer of shame or fear from your mental health struggle.

  • Talk to understanding people. Do you have someone in your life whom you can count on to be a judgment-free zone? That may be a therapist, a friend, a family member, or any trusted person in your life. Feeling sympathy and acceptance from a caring person could be the first step to feeling better.

  • Not ready to share your feelings with another person? Take a self-evaluation to recognize your experience within the diagnostic framework. While these assessments are not equivalent to a diagnosis and do not replace formal mental health care, they can reassure you that you are not the only person with your experience.

  • Read about your suspected condition or symptoms. Reading articles or personal accounts have the effect of reminding you that you are not alone.

  • Try online forums, Facebook groups, or even Reddit threads related to your diagnosis or symptoms. Share your story in a low-stakes way or just read what others have experienced.

Seeing others 

Seeking to be seen will inevitably lead to learning about other people who are going through or have recovered from feelings similar to yours.

  • Look for stories you can relate to, either through online forums or articles. This step could occur along with your efforts to feel seen.

  • Validate and affirm others. When you encounter something you can relate to, tell the other person. You are part of the seeing and being seen cycle.

  • Recognize your own empathy. You may encounter stories you never thought you would relate to, but you do. Acknowledge the part your own empathy plays in creating your turning point.

Reclaiming your narrative 

Living with disruptions to your mental wellness can make it feel like things are out of your control. It might seem like others know what you need but you don’t have the agency or energy to choose for yourself. 

  • Do the “next right thing.” This can be a tiny step. The key factor is that you decide what direction you want your life to go and make that step. 

  • Be the bus driver. In acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), the bus driver metaphor means each of your experiences are passengers boarding the bus as you go through life. If your bus is full of loud, negative passengers, you may develop a habit of appeasing the negative thoughts rather than determining your course. You are the driver and you decide where to go.

  • Explore your identities. Schleider writes about a survey respondent who experienced a turning point diving into research about their personal identities and their intersections. What parts of your culture or self have gone unexplored?

Giving back 

Supporting others who have experiences like your can empower you to keep making progress on your own recovery.

  • Share your story publicly. Much like seeing others and being seen, sharing your story adds to the cycle of validation. If you are comfortable talking about your experiences to a few people, consider sharing on a larger scale. Speak in a group session or write a blog.

  • Engage in peer support. Consider the communities or settings where you have received support and look into how you can contribute in a formal or informal way. Working in the community where you feel understood and validated reinforces your motivation to work toward wellness.

Be on the lookout for meaningful moments

The power of a turning point is only fully realized if you notice it happening (or create meaning by reflecting on it later). One of Schleider’s interview subjects (cited in Little Treatments, Big Effects) pointed this out: “I think they’re probably there, but it would take some level of noticing to see them and respond to them in a way that makes them have an impact,” they said. “I’m imagining a literal turning point in a road—if you’re not paying attention, you can just keep driving, but if you’re looking for it, you can see the turn-off, and you can go in a different direction. So part of it might be showing up, paying attention.”

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