Recovery from mental illness

What is recovery from mental illness?

Recovery is “a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential,” according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

“In order for individuals with SMI to recover they must accept the fact of their disability and still develop dreams and aspirations, along with a positive view of themselves and their lives,” says Pat Deegan, PhD, a psychologist who lives with schizophrenia and who speaks about recovery.

The principles of recovery

In 2004, the Center for Mental Health Services convened a National Consensus Conference on Mental Health Recovery and Systems Transformation. More than 100 mental health key stakeholders, including people living with mental illness, providers, researchers, advocates, and agency representatives, met to develop a consensus statement on mental health recovery. That statement identifies the 10 key elements of recovery, summarized here:

Self-direction: People living with mental illness determine their own path to recovery.

Individualized and person-centered: There are multiple pathways to recovery based on individuals’ unique strengths, needs, preferences, experiences, and cultural backgrounds.

Empowerment: People living with mental illness can choose among options and participate in all decisions that affect them.

Holistic: Recovery focuses on people’s entire lives, including mind, body, spirit, and community.

Nonlinear: Recovery isn’t a step-by-step process but one based on continual growth, occasional setbacks, and learning from experience.

Strengths-based: Recovery builds on people’s strengths.

Peer support: Mutual support plays an invaluable role in recovery.

Respect: Acceptance and appreciation by society, communities, systems of care, and consumers themselves are crucial to recovery.

Responsibility: People living with mental illness are responsible for their own self-care and journeys of recovery.

Hope: Recovery’s central, motivating message is that people can and do overcome obstacles.

The stages of recovery

Dr. Larry Davidson, Dr. John Strauss, and their associates conducted a series of interviews with 66 participants with serious mental illnesses, focusing on the reconstruction of a sense of self in recovery. Four recovery stages emerged from the researchers’ work:

  1. Discovering the possibility of a more active sense of self
  2. Taking stock of one's strengths and limitations
  3. Putting aspects of the self into action
  4. Using this enhanced sense of self as a resource in recovery

Psychologists Retta Andresen, Lindsay Oades, and Peter Caputi conducted a similar study of individuals experiencing schizophrenia. The researchers identified four key processes of recovery:

  1. Finding hope
  2. Re-establishment of identity
  3. Finding meaning in life
  4. Taking responsibility for recovery

The role of the self in recovery

A great deal of research over the past few decades has shown that developing a sense of “self-efficacy,” “empowerment,” “self-agency,” or “self-acceptance” is crucial to recovery. People living with mental illness commonly lose this important part of themselves. Regaining a sense of self allows people living with mental illness to undertake the hard but worthwhile work of recovery. Self-Acceptance: The Key to Recovery from Mental Illness is designed to help people in recovery in this crucial way.