Since the mid-1980s, a great deal has been written about mental health
recovery from the perspective of the consumer (client), family member and mental
health professional. The amount of research of various aspects of recovery
continues to grow. Early research by Courtney Harding (1987) and others
challenged the belief that severe mental illness is chronic and that stability
is the best one could hope for. They discovered there are multiple
outcomes associated with severe mental illness and that many people did progress
beyond a state of mere stability. As such, the concept of recovery began to
obtain legitimacy (Sullivan 1997).
Although there are many perceptions and definitions of recovery, William
Anthony, Director of the Boston Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation seems to
have developed the cornerstone definition of mental health recovery. Anthony
(1993) identifies recovery as " a deeply personal, unique process of
changing oneís attitudes, values, feelings, goals, skills and/or roles. It is
a way of living a satisfying, hopeful, and contributing life even with
limitations caused by the illness. Recovery involves the development of new
meaning and purpose in oneís life as one grows beyond the catastrophic effects
of mental illness."
Ultimately, because recovery is a personal and unique process, everyone with
a psychiatric illness develops his or her own definition of recovery. However,
certain concepts or factors are common to recovery. Some of these are
More recently, SAMHSA released a consensus
statement outlining 10 fundamental components of recovery, which can be
Hope is a desire accompanied by confident expectation. Having a sense of
hope is the foundation for ongoing recovery from mental illness. Even the
smallest belief that we can get better, as others have, can fuel the recovery
Early in the recovery process, it is
possible for a treatment provider, friend, and/or family member to carry hope
for a consumer. At some point, however, consumers must develop and
internalize their own sense of hope.
While many people are frustrated by the process of finding the right
medications and the side effects of medications, most persons with a
psychiatric disorder indicate that medications are critical to their success
(Sullivan, 1997). For many, the goal is not to be medication-free, but to take
the least amount necessary.
Likewise, mental health consumers often report that mental health
professionals and treatment programs are valuable to their recovery.
Especially when consumers feel they are engaged in a partnership with
their treatment provider and are involved in their treatment planning.
Empowerment is the belief that one has power and control in their life, including their
illness. Empowerment also involves taking responsibility for self and
advocating for self and others. As consumers grow in their recovery journeys,
they gain a greater sense of empowerment in their lives.
Support from peers, family, friends and mental health professionals is
essential to recovery from mental illness. It is especially beneficial to have
multiple sources of support. This not only reduces a consumerís sense of
isolation, but also increases their activity in the community, allowing
them to obtain an integral role in society.
In addition to support from individuals, participation in support groups is
an important tool for recovery. Consumers frequently report that being able to
interact with others who understand their feelings and experiences is the most
important ingredient for their recovery.
In order to maximize recovery, it is important to learn as much as possible
about our illnesses, medications, best treatment practices and available
resources. Itís also important to learn about ourselves, including our
symptoms so that we can gain better control over our illnesses.
Consumers can educate themselves by speaking with health care
professionals, attending workshops and support groups, reading books, articles
and newsletters, browsing the internet and participating in discussion
While most consumers recognize the value of professional treatment,
self-help is often viewed as the conduit to growth in recovery. Self-help can
take many forms including learning to identify symptoms and take actions to
counteract them, reading and learning about an illness and its treatment,
learning and applying coping skills, attending support groups and developing a
support system to rely on when necessary.
A broad definition of spirituality is that itís a partnership with oneís
higher power. For many consumers spirituality provides hope, solace during
their illness, peace and understanding and a source of social support.
Frequently, when we meet new
people, they ask "what do you do?" Whether it is fair
or not, what we do shapes others' opinions of who we are. As a
result, it is common for a person's identity to be significantly
impacted by what they do. Likewise, what a person does
influences his/her confidence, esteem, social role, values, etc.
Simply put, employment/meaningful activity affords most consumers the
opportunity to regain a positive identity, including a sense of
purpose and value.
Anthony, W. A. (1993). Recovery from
mental illness: The guiding vision of the mental health service system
in the 1990ís.
Harding, C. M., Brooks, G. W., Asolaga,
T. S. J. S., and Breier, A. (1987). The Vermont longitudinal study of
persons with severe mental illness. American
Journal of Psychiatry, 144,
Sullivan, W.P. (1997). A
long and winding road: The process of recovery from severe mental
illness. In L. Spaniol, C. Gagne and M. Koehler (Ed.), Psychological
and social aspects of psychiatric disability (pp. 14-24).
Boston: Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation.