I was recently speaking with some people who work in the mental health field just as I do, and someone asked me the question, “what does recovery mean to you?” My first thought was that mental health recovery will look different for everyone because no two people will follow the same path while they work towards positive mental health. I stumbled through an answer touching on my own experiences of depressed mood and anxiety. I can say that I have recovered from depression and anxiety because I now feel that I have enough self-awareness and self-compassion to recognize when I am struggling, and because the coping skills and support network that I have developed over the years allow me to feel confident that I can face my concerns head-on. That doesn’t mean that I am not susceptible to future periods of depression and anxiety, and so, I have accepted that I will always have to be vigilant and proactive when it comes to my mental health.
The question about recovery got me thinking, and I started wondering about how other people and agencies define recovery. The Mental Health Commission of Canada answers the “what is recovery?” question like this:
” The concept of “recovery” in mental health refers to living a satisfying, hopeful, and contributing life, even when a person may be experiencing ongoing symptoms of a mental health problem or illness. Recovery journeys build on individual, family, cultural, and community strengths and can be supported by many types of services, supports, and treatments.
Recovery principles, including hope, dignity, self-determination, and responsibility, can be adapted to the realities of different life stages, and to the full range of mental health problems and illnesses. Recovery is not only possible, it should be expected.”
Because mental illnesses vary greatly in severity, duration, and presentation, recovery cannot be narrowly defined as the absence of any symptoms of the illness. While someone who has experienced an episode of depression may go on to never experience the symptoms of clinical depression again, someone with a diagnosis of schizophrenia (for example) will most likely live with some symptoms of the illness throughout their life. However, if we look at the way recovery is defined in the quote above, the person living with an illness can still recover because they can become empowered to live a satisfying life. Therefore, a person who is living with a mental illness can also be a person with good mental health.
The recovery model of mental health service recognizes the importance of looking at mental health holistically while supporting people with mental illness to create their own recovery plans, set their own goals, build on their strengths, and engage with the communities in which they live.
Perhaps recovery is best thought of as a process or even a practice. It is a journey rather than a destination. To everyone who is living with ongoing mental health concerns and who is practicing recovery, I hope that you will find the path towards wellness that is just right for you.
By Polly Guetta