A national framework for recovery-oriented mental health services: policy and theory

Recovery as an everyday human experience

Page last updated: 2013

Glover (2012) views people in recovery as ‘living, loving, working and playing in their community’ or in other words, doing the things that people need or wish to do or enjoy doing every day. The Mental Health Coordinating Council explains a benefit of this understanding of recovery:

Viewing recovery as a normal human process ‘demystifies’ the process of recovery from mental health problems and puts people in a better position to support someone in their recovery journey (MHCC 2008, p.14).

Recovery and relationships

Recovery is a personal journey, but it is rarely undertaken alone. For this reason, many commentators with lived experience of mental illness emphasise the theme of relationships with family, friends, peers and practitioners.

[It was] …. important for people in recovery to feel as if they are supported and cared for and identify ‘being there’ and available as a factor within friendships that seemed to help people in recovery. For professionals or caregivers, to go the extra step, to take a risk, to reach out and make a connection and ‘be there’ was important (Brown & Kandirikirira 2007, pp. 75–79).
Boydell et al. (2002) take up the theme of the importance of peers and refer to an enhanced level of understanding, support and acceptance that peers bring to one another by sharing their personal experiences of living with and overcoming mental health issues. This mutuality emphasises the role of peers in alleviating alienation and loneliness.

People with lived experience also discuss the importance to recovery of their parenting roles. A person detained in a forensic facility explained:

I remember my children coming to visit me in the hospital and at the time I was considered a danger to my children and myself. My children wanted to go outside on the grass to play, and luckily there was enough staff on duty for me to go out with them. Then my daughter fell down a manhole in the hospital grounds and she needed stitches in her leg. The hospital was very quick and helpful at arranging for me to be accompanied to the A&E with my daughter. She wanted her mum with her at a time of great distress and this was allowed to happen. This helped me in my self-esteem around being a parent and was very important in aiding my recovery and bond to my children (E.H. in Roberts et al. 2008, p. 178). Top of page

Recovery, culture and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

Refer to following text for a text description of the artwork by 'Guthlan' Carolyn Fyfe entitled 'Journey'

‘Guthlan’ Carolyn Fyfe discusses her journey of recovery and healing.

The art is called the ‘Journey’ ...
The journey of recovery and healing starts from the outer circle identifying the challenges that a person would experience. The colours:

  • Brown—the challenges to make the change in your thoughts/emotions (trying to move ahead)
  • Black are the dark times (depression)
  • Mauve—identified the reasons and have moved forward
  • White—you have the control
As you get closer to the centre it represents the wellness of health—socially, emotionally and spiritually.

It is a long journey and you need to have people who can let you explain your story and they theirs. Top of page

The second painting also by ‘Guthlan’ Carolyn Fyfe depicts the journey of layers that have impacted the social and emotional wellbeing of Indigenous people from invasion, colonisation and segregation to assimilation. As the layers and their impacts are removed a person’s journey of healing and recovery starts.

Refer to following text for a text description of the untitled artwork by 'Guthlan' Carolyn Fyfe

Fyfe explains:

I never really had a name for this piece of art. I painted it to help educate others on the impacts of invasion, colonisation, segregation to assimilation and how this journey has affected the wellbeing of our Indigenous race socially, emotionally, culturally and spiritually—mind, body and soul. Top of page

Recovery and diversity

People’s experience of recovery will be influenced by:
  • their cultural identity—how they see self, kinship and relations with the broader community
  • their explanatory models of illness, distress and wellness
  • their experiences of torture, trauma, displacement, loss, racism and discrimination
  • their spirituality.
The research tells of the serious and compounding emotional problems experienced by people with mental health issues emerging from discrimination on account of ethnicity, race, culture or sexual orientation. For some, the concealment of important aspects of oneself reflects a desperate attempt to survive, the need to ‘pass’ in an attempt to fit in. Gene Deegan describes how he tried to hide his mental health issues.

I’d internalized the old stereotypes about mental illness … I feared losing my identity, hopes and dreams. I hid them at all costs. Deep down I stigmatized myself (Deegan, G 2003, p. 369).
Accounts tell of how hiding personal identity places a heavy burden on an individual and can impede recovery. Top of page

Recovery as living well

Commentators and researchers with lived experience also emphasise living well irrespective of any limitations arising from mental illness.

... 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 within the limitations caused by illness. Recovery involves the development of new meaning and purpose in one’s life as one grows beyond the catastrophic effects of mental illness (Anthony 1993).
Glover (2012) describes recovery as self-righting – a natural process that people undertake, usually unconsciously, in response to difficulties and distress that interrupt the status quo of daily life.

Self-defined and not the same as cure

Pat Deegan, a psychologist who is in recovery with schizophrenia, reflects on the ongoing nature of her recovery.

Recovery is not the same thing as being cured. Recovery is a process not an end point or a destination. Recovery is an attitude, a way of approaching the day and facing the challenges. Being in recovery means recognising limitations in order to see the limitless possibilities. Recovery means being in control. Recovery is the urge, the wrestle, and the resurrection ...

My journey of recovery is still ongoing. I still struggle with symptoms, grieve the losses I have sustained … I am also involved in self-help and mutual support and still use professional services including medications, psychotherapy, and hospitals. However, I do not just take medications or go to the hospital. I have learned to use medications and to use the hospital. This is the active stance that is the hallmark of the recovery process (Deegan, P 1996, p. 91). Top of page

A nonlinear process

Pat Deegan also discusses the nonlinear nature of recovery and how recovery is frequently interspersed with both achievement and setbacks.

Recovery is not a linear process marked by successive accomplishments. The recovery process is more accurately described as a series of small beginnings and very small steps.Professionals cannot manufacture the spirit of recovery and give it to consumers. Recovery cannot be forced or willed. However, environments can be created in which the recovery process can be nurtured like a tender and precious seedling. To recover, psychiatrically disabled persons must be willing to try and fail, and try again (Deegan, P 1988, p. 11).

This brief discussion of the different perspectives of writers and researchers with lived experience of mental health issues reflects the importance of understanding and acknowledging that recovery will mean different things for different people.