What does it mean to “recover” from a mental health issue?

Recovery%20shirt - What does it mean to "recover" from a mental health issue?
Photo by Portland Prevention (Creative Commons licence)

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.”

This is the new working definition of recovery that was co-created by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the public in a recent effort to create a unified and relevant definition of recovery.

SAMHSA’s provides funding and research support to state and federal level agencies in the areas of mental health and substance abuse treatment. SAMHSA administers billions of dollars of grants to fund programs and research. The Obama administration is asking that they receive an increase to $3.6 billion from $93 million in 2010. The direction that this agency takes is most likely going to influence how they spend their funding dollars. How this agency defines what recovery ‘is’ will impact what agencies and research it will fund. It can shape federal and even state policy on recovery services to our communities.

This new working definition is shift from a more behavioral approach to recovery to one that incorporates the lived experience. It is more person centered and even reflects a more humanistic and existential view of what it means to recover.

The new definition is backed up by guiding principles that are aspects of life that are needed to help in recovery.

The guiding principles:

Recovery emerges from hope. Hope can pull many people out of despair and addiction. Hope is knowing that one can still have an impact on their lives. They believe and hope that they can take responsibility and make the right choices that will lead them out of their pain.

Recovery is person-driven and an individual’s own self-determination and self-direction, can lead them down their own pathways of healing. Self-determination and self-direction gives one the choice and freedom to make change in their lives. Having choice and responsibility can empower someone to take their own unique path of recovery, one that focuses on their own strengths, incorporates their own identity and sense of self. When recovery is driven by a personal desire to transform suffering to joy, it becomes the most powerful healing agent available.

Recovery is holistic, in that in it is not just a matter of healing the physical addiction, recovery must include the entire being and that is the mind, body, spirit and community.

Recovery is supported by peers and allies. Yes, those in recovery can feel alone in their process of recovery, but having allies at their side can ease the pain of isolation and provide the needed strength to keep going despite setbacks.

Recovery is culturally based and influenced, of course because recovery is dependent upon the individuals’ sense of self. That sense of self is closely tied with their cultural background.

Recovery is supported by addressing trauma; the connection between trauma and addiction is strong. Research has shown that trauma and addiction go hand and hand. Without treating the shattering effects of trauma, we would be getting to the source of pain that brings about addiction in many.

Recovery involves individual, family, and community strengths and responsibility; this is more of a strengths based perspective, one that is foundational in humanistic psychology.

Recovery is based on respect; unconditional positive regard leads to less social stigma and isolation of the individual in recovery. What this new definition states very clearly that recovery is not just about an individual changing their behaviors. Recovery cannot be solely achieved by a pharmaceutical treatment.

Recovery means tending to all of the aspects of self, including their individual pains and anxieties that may leave them in a place of isolation and even close to death. Recovery means engaging all of their strengths including those that are outside of them that are in the form of community and family.

The guiding principles reflect a movement towards seeing us as more than biological beings. We are human beings “be-ing” in the world as James Bugental stated. We are our mind, bodies and spirits. We are also our families, friends, communities, and even systems. Each one of these play a role in helping us “be” in the world. In the case of recovery, all of these aspects of our selves are needed in order to help us to recovery from the pain that we experience in our existence.

It is good to see a definition of recovery is that no longer limited to just being abstinent. It takes more than avoidance to fully recover. It takes an approach that sees a whole human being and understands how we are in world. Those in recovery need more than just self-control or behavioral management skills. They need emotional support and compassion to help them not only to recovery but to heal as well.

— Makenna Berry

Read other posts by Makenna Berry

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