Recovery in mental health

Some of the projects Diversityworks Trust is involved in are based around issues of mental health.  During one discussion on the topic, we came around to the idea of recovery.

One person was arguing that we shouldn’t use the word “recovery” in relation to mental health.  The argument was that recovery suggests there is some kind of “normal” that people who experience mental illness should aspire to be.  When in reality, people can have full and interesting lives while still experiencing the effects of a mental illness.  It simply makes life a bit different, and they may have to do certain things in order to take care of themselves and their unique way of being.

As someone who experienced a mental illness myself, I like using the term recovery.  But I think it’s important to think about what we mean when we use the word.

The Mental Health Commission defines recovery as “living well, with or without the ongoing effects of mental illness.”

I think this is rather apt.  I suffered from depression for a number of years, and eventually found my way out.  But in order not to go back to a state of unwellness, my life needs to be quite different than it used to be.  I’m a lot more honest these days about how I feel, both to myself and others, and understand a lot better how to take care of myself

If I start to feel down and unhappy, I know that there is something in my life that will be making me feel that way.  It might be something as simple as lack of sunlight in winter, right through to taking on too much in my work/uni/volunteering commitments.  As soon as I figure out what’s going on, I make a change.  If I can’t actually do anything about the situation, then I’ll just make sure I am kind to myself, dial back my workload as possible, and do more things that I enjoy.

I also do things that some other people might not do.  Lack of sleep has a huge effect on my mood and I have once or twice taken a day off work because I haven’t had a good sleep the night before.  I’m lucky enough to have an employer that understands my need to take the occasional mental health day.

It sounds simple, but taking care of myself is something I had to learn how to do.

So would you say that I’m recovered?  I would say yes, given that I’m very much living in a state of wellness.  I would also argue that most people do things to take care of themselves and their mental health.  The only difference is that I know exactly how important it is for me.

I think using the term recovery is a good thing, because recovery should be a realistic expectation for anyone who experiences mental illness.  What it looks like for each of us will be unique.  Its important that we are all flexible enough to allow each person to live well, in their own unique way.

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