Understanding Mental Health Recovery

Recovery means being able to have a sense of meaning and belonging, as well as security, despite the fact that some of the symptoms of mental illness don’t go away or don’t always stay away.

 Recovery starts by making the choice to discover what helps you feel better, think clearly and relate to others.It often includes taking medication, talking about your problems, sleeping regularly, eating moderately and exercising. We all face challenges at different times, and any of  these problems can be our most immediate concern. It might be medical coverage,  housing, food, employment, incarceration…or anything else. Whatever it is; a problem is a problem.

According to the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA), 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.

William Anthony has defined it as, “…develop(ing)…new meaning and purpose in…life as one grows beyond the catastrophic effects of mental illness.”

Recovery is not about the lack of symptoms, but instead recovery is about finding ways to live a meaningful life despite having symptoms.

Recovery, according to Mary Ellen Copeland, in her Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP)—has five elements:


            Personal Responsibility


            Self Advocacy


A WRAP includes a plan for each of the following:

Wellness Tools. Things I can do or might do to feel better.

Daily Maintenance Plan. Things I need to do to stay well (including weekly, monthly or one time).

Triggers. Events or circumstances that may make me feel uncomfortable.

Early Warning Signs. Changes in my thoughts, attitudes or behaviors.

When Things are Breaking Down: I’m still able to manage my daily activities but need extra support.

Crisis. I’m unable to handle daily activities and need others to take responsibility for my care.

A WRAP includes making a list of the people you can call if you need to talk or would like more support.

There are at least 14 paths to recovery, and no doubt, many more. Dr. Mark Ragins’ Paths to Recovery include:

Talk to other people instead of isolating.

Actually feel feelings and emotions instead of deadening, medicating or avoiding them, or getting high.

Learn some emotional coping skills.

Learn to “use” medications instead of just “taking” medications.

Engage (or re-engage) in activities that make you more fun and interesting.

Take responsibility for your own life and make some changes in yourself.

Go to work even when you’re not feeling well.

Do things outside of being a mental patient and outside the mental health system.

Improve physical health and wellness.

Love other people—family, partners, kids.

Work on acceptance and forgiveness instead of blaming and vengeance.

Give back by helping others

Find meaning and blessings in suffering and reconnect with God and spirituality.

Once you start traveling down your road to recovery, you might want to write your recovery story. It can help you and others stay on course. These stories often begin with a description of the way it was, what happened to bring you to the point of making a decision to change, and what it is like now.

“It is the greatest secret of our modern world that inside the people we label as psychiatric cases live ordinary people with the same feelings, hopes and dreams as everyone else. It can take a great deal of patience and care to discover who we really are and help us connect to society, so that we can live decent lives. The history of civilization has always been to bring the “others” who we treat unfairly or unjustly into our sense of community, so we are all one community of equals with rights and meaningful roles to play. The last frontier of our evolution as a society may be to understand and find a place for people laboring under psychiatric difficulties. Some of these difficulties can be avoided if we protect people from trauma. And what can’t be avoided, we need to learn to accept and love, despite the differences we present to the world.”

Brian Youngberg / Seattle 02/17/12 permission to use with attribution.


About mentalrecovery

I work in a large mental health clinic and am active in NAMI
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