Recovery. It’s the word of the moment with mental health services. They’ll tell you they operate from a ‘recovery framework’. Recovery as the ultimate goal, it’s what we’re all supposed to be aiming for.

I don’t understand the concept.

When I think of the word ‘recovery,’ I think of someone ceasing to have the symptoms of an illness they previously had and are no longer ill. As in someone recovering from an infection, recovering from a bout of gastroenteritis, recovering from the flu. Or if we’re talking mental health issues, recovering from an eating disorder or recovering from depression. As in, they had that illness but do not have it any more, nor do they have any lingering symptoms.

According to the lecture notes from my neuropsych tutorial though, some of the principles of recovery include;

  • Recovery can occur even though symptoms reoccur or remain.
  • Recovery can change the frequency and duration of symptoms.

So then I was just confused.

I Google searched ‘mental health recovery’ and came across a government document entitled Principles of recovery oriented mental health practice. Maybe I’m just slow, but I still don’t understand this elusive concept of ‘recovery’.

But perhaps it doesn’t matter, seeing as whatever this word means, it doesn’t feel attainable, achievable or realistic anyway. I may achieve periods of ‘doing better’ but I don’t expect to be completely free of depression and anxiety any time soon, or possibly even ever.

4 thoughts on “Recovery?

  1. I think the concept of recovery is confusing, and I agree that the word as it’s used for acute medical illnesses doesn’t really make much sense in a mental health context. I guess you could use it in the sense of recovery from a period of crisis, but obviously that in no way means that the underlying issues have been resolved or that the person no longer has any mental health problems.

    The way I think of it, and I think the way it’s mostly used in services, is that being in ‘recovery’ is about endeavouring to live your life the way you want to- that might mean cessation of symptoms, living a meaningful life in spite of symptoms, or a mixture of both. In this view, recovery is a journey, not a destination- the sense of the word is more akin to being in recovery from an addiction than anything else. You (generic you) could well be in recovery for the rest of your life.

    The problem I have with the recovery model is that in practice, it’s too limiting. My interpretation of recovery is working towards a time where my mental health issues no longer hold me back from living a life I am absolutely satisfied with, whereas in my experience services mostly focus on getting people stable and functioning- once people are at that level, the interest in supporting people all the way to a more meaningful life trails off rather quickly (whether that’s due to lack of funding, a more medical definition of recovery, or whatever.)

    I’ve written a lot in the past about recovery but am finding myself moving away from the word due to the imprecise nature of it- I’m more interested in just living my life. I’ve had problems with depression, anxiety and emotion regulation for over twelve years, they’re not going to disappear overnight (or perhaps they won’t ever disappear completely, who knows), but that doesn’t mean I can’t be happy right here, right now, in this very moment.

  2. Interestingly, if I recall correctly, the DSM talks about remission rather than recovery. I think I’m in agreement with you–i don’t tgibk mental illness ever goes away completely, but I think we learn to manage it and cope better. And all this crazy, as shit as it is, makes us stronger. If you can survive yourself, you can survive anthing.

  3. The ‘real’ or agreed definition of recovery is irrelevant. What does it mean to you? For me – I would love to be rid of all symptoms, analogous to your physical illness example – but….how realistic is that? After 15 years it’s unlikely I will go the rest of my life without another depressive episode. However- at this point I am a functional to almost my ideal level; I study, own a dog & car, lease a house and might move almost interstate. I am still swamped by depression, especially at the moment with pain stuff, and occasionally it plays out through food. I’d still call myself between in recovery or recovered. What’s realistic for you?

  4. I think it’s very much up to the individual to define their “recovery”. For me, I believe I am the closest to “recovery” that I’ve ever been. I still have bad days with depression and anxiety but in general my functioning is higher, I am able to cope with setbacks better and I am not experiencing as frequent or as long episodes of depression. For example, I had a bit of a breakdown earlier today – big episode of depression, but even though I am still a bit upset, I am not destructive and I am able to focus on the bigger picture.
    Every MI has the potential to reach a point of “recovery”. But this differs for each illness and each person…

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