“Don’t tell me recovery is not evidence based! I am the evidence.” (Woman with a mental illness) I love this quote! While there is no one definition that all agree on, recovery is all about hope, the hope that people can live lives of quality and dignity in spite of the limitations that come with mental illness.
For years it was thought that mental illnesses like schizophrenia were kiss-of-death diagnoses. Life was over. All hope evaporated. But we now have numerous long-term studies that indicate that up to two-thirds of people with mental illness can and do recover.
Recovery can have many different meanings. Some people will have one episode of psychosis or schizophrenia. Their recovery is much like that of a person recovering from a heart attack; though they are vulnerable, they may never have another episode again. For others, the recovery or recovering process is much longer, perhaps even life-long. There may be intermittent relapses with mental illnesses like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Like people who live with asthma, people with schizophrenia can live a life of quality and purpose, but must pay special attention to self-care and to managing their illness.
Some people who have experienced unremitting mental illness seem to be beyond recovery. I understand this: one of my brothers lives with schizophrenia and another with bipolar disorder. Illness can be unremitting when people can’t access recovery- oriented mental health services and systems. But we must still hope they can experience recovery.
Dr. Larry Davidson, professor of psychiatry at Yale University, says that recovery means learning how to live outside the mental illness rather than inside it. To live inside the mental illness is to be lost in its downward spiral. Living outside schizophrenia is about reclaiming your life. It is about self-determination, choice, hope, and empowerment.
Many who experience prolonged mental illness are not only recovering from the mental illness, but are also recovering from the losses associated with mental illness, and from its stigma and discrimination: loss of friends, income, safe and affordable housing, vocational and recreational opportunities, health, and hope of recovery. We need to address the social injustices and lack of full citizenship opportunities experienced by people who live with mental illnesses.
Experts who work with young people experiencing early psychosis have said that recovery can be seen from three dimensions: personal, social, and illness-related. (Windell, D., et al., 2008)
• Personal recovery is about acceptance and regaining purpose and meaning in life as you come to terms with mental illness
• Social recovery is about living a safe, full, and dignified life in the community with appropriate supports and services
• Illness recovery is self-management and using your own “personal medicine” (Deegan, P. 2005), for example stress management, support groups, meditation, or yoga, as well as pharmaceutical medication In Your Recovery Journey, we look at and discuss five topics.
• What is recovery?
• Quality of life
• Medication as a tool for recovery
• Moving forward: personal action planning
One of the best remembered television series from the 1950s was a show called This Is Your Life, broadcast from 1952 to 1961. The program was based on a simple principle: each guest was surprised with a presentation of his or her life.
Well, this is your life. You didn’t ask for a mental illness. But a recovery journey is part of your life, too. It’s a journey of meaning, management, and medication. We hope this resource helps you live life outside mental illness.
People who have experienced mental illness tell us recovery is possible. They say life can be lived beyond the illness.
The motto of Home Depot is “You can do it. We can help”. The job of mental health service providers, family, and friends is to create environments in which recovery can take place. Only you can do the work of recovery. But we can help.
May this resource, Your Recovery Journey, inspire you; may your recovery be as much a reality as your mental illness. I want to acknowledge the support of Janssen Inc. and our advisory board – consumers, family members, and service providers who assisted in the creation of this series. Our project coordinator, Catherine Willinsky, is to be congratulated and complimented on her leadership. She has kept us focused and on track with the project.
Finally, be assured we have endeavoured to be faithful to the literature written about recovery in the past twenty-five years. I know as a Board Member of the Mental Health Commission of Canada that the Commission is committed to the development of a recovery-oriented mental health system in Canada. I trust that this program will contribute to the much-needed discussion in Canada about the recovery model.
Well, this is your life. Your journey of recovery!
Chris Summerville, D. Min., CPRP