The concept of recovery was conceived by, and for, people with mental health issues to describe their own experiences and journeys and to affirm personal identity beyond the constraints of diagnoses.

The recovery movement began in the 1970s primarily as a civil rights movement aimed at restoring the human rights and full community inclusion of people with mental health issues.

Recovery approaches are viewed by the consumer movement as an alternative to the medical model with its emphasis on pathology, deficits and dependency. There is no single description or definition of recovery, because recovery is different for everyone. However, central to all recovery paradigms are hope, self-determination, self-management, empowerment and advocacy. Also key is a person’s right to full inclusion and to a meaningful life of their own choosing, free of stigma and discrimination.

Some characteristics of recovery commonly cited are that it is:

  • a unique and personal journey
  • a normal human process
  • an ongoing esperience and not the same as an end point or cure
  • a journey rarely taken alone
  • nonlinear—frequently interspersed with achievements and setbacks.
Recovery is a struggle for many people. The struggle might stem from severity of symptoms, side effects of medication, current or past trauma and pain, difficult socioeconomic circumstances, or the experience of using mental health services. Practitioners can also struggle as a result of the constraints of their work environment or when they sense a person’s despair (Davidson & Roe 2007).

Personal recovery is defined within this framework as being able to create and live a meaningful and contributing life in a community of choice with or without the presence of mental health issues.

Recovery approaches are different depending upon where a person is on their recovery journey. During an acute phase of illness, the person’s capacity may be impaired to the extent that alleviation of distress and the burden of symptoms, as well as safety, is the primary focus of treatment and care. Regaining capacity for self-determination or deeper engagement should be a focus in the next stage of treatment and support. At later stages, when capacity is improved, there are opportunities for the person to consider broader recovery strategies.

The concept of recovery is represented in Figure 3. Top of page

Figure 3: The concept of recovery

Refer to the following text for a text equivalent of Figure 3: The concept of recovery

Text version of figure 3

A series of concentric circles represents the concept of recovery. The innermost circle contains personal recovery characteristics of resilience, strength, optimism and hope and represents individuals with a lived experience. Surrounding the inner circle are recovery strategies such as advocacy, treatment, support, connection, acceptance and inclusion. The outermost circle contains support networks such as services, practitioners, peer specialists, community, friends and family.Top of page