People Can Recover from Mental Illness

Most people with behavioral health disorders (aka mental illness and/or substance use disorder) can get better. Symptoms can significantly improve or even disappear altogether. This does not necessarily mean that an individual will be “cured.” Mental illness is a chronic disease. Recovering is the process of finding the right balance in life – it is the journey towards wellness and stability. This may include medication, therapy, and/or lifestyle changes.
In 1993 William Anthony, Director of the Boston Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation defined recovery as “a deeply personal, unique process of changing one’s 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 one’s life as one grows beyond the catastrophic effects of mental illness.”
In 2004, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), with six other Federal agencies, convened more than 110 expert panelists to clearly define recovery. They identified 10 fundamental components of Behavioral Health Recovery. The following is an abbreviated version of the 10 components:
  1. Self-Direction: By definition, the recovery process must be self-directed by the individual, who defines his or her own life goals and designs a unique path towards those goals.
  2. Individualized and Person-Centered: There are multiple pathways to recovery based on an individual’s unique strengths and resiliencies as well as his or her needs, preferences, experiences (including past trauma), and cultural background in all of its diverse representations.
  3. Empowerment: Individuals have the ability to join with other individuals to collectively and effectively speak for themselves about their needs, wants, desires, and aspirations. Through empowerment, an individual gains control of his or her own destiny and influences the organizational and societal structures in his or her life.
  4. Holistic: Recovery embraces all aspects of life, including housing, employment, education, mental health and healthcare treatment and services, complementary and naturalistic services, addictions treatment, spirituality, creativity, social networks, community participation, and family supports as determined by the person.
  5. Non-Linear: Recovery is not a step-by-step process but one based on continual growth, occasional setbacks, and learning from experience. Recovery begins with an initial stage of awareness in which a person recognizes that positive change is possible.
  6. Strengths-Based: Recovery focuses on valuing and building on the multiple capacities, resiliencies, talents, coping abilities, and inherent worth of individuals.
  7. Peer Support: Mutual support – including the sharing of experiential knowledge and skills and social learning – plays an invaluable role in recovery. Individuals encourage and engage other individuals in recovery and provide each other with a sense of belonging, supportive relationships, valued roles, and community.
  8. Respect: Community, systems, and societal acceptance and appreciation of individuals -including protecting their rights and eliminating discrimination and stigma – are crucial in achieving recovery. Self-acceptance and regaining belief in one’s self are particularly vital.
  9. Responsibility: Individuals have a personal responsibility for their own self-care and journeys of recovery. Individuals must strive to understand and give meaning to their experiences and identify coping strategies and healing processes to promote their own wellness.
  10. Hope: Recovery provides the essential and motivating message of a better future – that people can and do overcome the barriers and obstacles that confront them. Hope is internalized; but can be fostered by peers, families, friends, providers, and others. Hope is the catalyst of the recovery process.
Individuals need not be defined by their mental illness. Each person is unique and their path and goals for recovery personal. Communities across America reap the benefits of the contributions individuals with behavioral disorders in recovery can make, ultimately becoming a stronger and healthier nation.

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