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OBJECTIVES: It is well known that mental health problems can recur even after effective treatment, leading to an understandable fear of illness recurrence (FIR) and mental health anxiety (MHA). These may themselves contribute to the process of relapse. This study aims to examine whether people recovering from psychosis have greater FIR than those recovering from common mental health problems or healthy controls. The study also hypothesized that there will be a relationship between FIR and MHA and that both these constructs will be associated with maladaptive coping behaviours. Finally, the relationship between mental defeat with FIR and psychological distress (anxiety and depression) will be examined. METHOD: A cross-sectional questionnaire design was employed. Thirty-nine participants in recovery from psychosis, eighty-two in recovery from other mental health difficulties, and sixty-one healthy controls aged 18-73 were recruited from NHS services and via social media. Self-report questionnaires measured mental defeat, mental health anxiety, fear of illness recurrence, maladaptive coping behaviours, and psychological distress. RESULTS: Those recovering from psychosis were found to more negatively evaluate the likely consequences of relapse than those recovering from common mental health problems or healthy controls. However, the levels of FIR in common mental health problems were also significantly elevated when compared to healthy controls. There were no other differences between these groups (in terms of mental defeat, anxiety, depression, social functioning, and maladaptive coping behaviours). The hypothesized relationship between FIR and MHA was also found, and both were associated with maladaptive coping behaviours. Mental defeat was associated with FIR and psychological distress (anxiety and depression). CONCLUSIONS: This study found that those with psychosis experienced higher FIR than those with common mental health problems. Furthermore, people defining themselves as in recovery are worried about relapse and the extent of this is linked to mental health anxiety. Given that such responses may contribute to actual relapse, it is important that these issues are better understood and interventions developed to ameliorate them. PRACTITIONER POINTS: Following recovery, fear of relapse may be particularly high in those with experience of psychosis; it is also present in those with common mental health problems The importance of this observation lies in the issue that anxiety about relapse may initiate a self-fulfilling process, with increased anxiety worsening symptoms and vice versa. Cognitive-behavioural therapy for health anxiety may be beneficial to those experiencing high levels of mental health anxiety. Cognitions related to relapse need to be explored and addressed both in further research and, when clearly identified, may be a target during relapse-prevention planning.

Original publication




Journal article


Br J Clin Psychol

Publication Date



fear of recurrence, maladaptive coping behaviours, mental defeat, mental health anxiety, predictors, psychosis, recovery, relapse