What is Recovery?

Recovery is a personal, unique process that changes our attitudes, values, feelings, goals, skills and roles in life. It is about finding a way of living a satisfying, hopeful, and contributing life even within the limitations caused by our mental health problems. Recovery involves the development of new meaning and purpose in life as we grow beyond the effects of our mental health.

The recovery process focuses on the person, not just on symptoms and believes recovery from severe mental health problems is possible for everyone. Recovery:

  • is a journey rather than a destination
  • does not necessarily mean getting back to where we were before
  • happens in 'fits and starts' and, like life, has many ups and downs
  • calls for optimism and commitment from all concerned
  • is profoundly influenced by people’s expectations and attitudes
  • requires a well-organised system of support from family, friends and 
  • focuses on building a meaningful and satisfying life as defined by ourselves

Essential features of our recovery include:

Hope, optimism and strengths – hope is central to our recovery in regaining and maintaining more active control over our lives. There can be no change without the belief that a better life is both possible and achievable. One way to realise a more hopeful approach is to find ways to focus on our strengths.

Self-identity – our identity includes our current and future self-image, separate from our illness. Some people describe being in recovery while still experiencing symptoms. For some it is about recovering a life and identity beyond the experience of mental ill health.

Meaning in life, including life purpose and goals, is essential to our recovery. We all find meaning in very different ways, but most people describe the importance of feeling valued and of being contributing members of a community.

Personal Responsibility – the ability to take personal responsibility for our own life is necessary to enable recovery to occur. Taking control of our lives can be hard but many people describe how important it is to find a way to take an active and responsible role in their own recovery.

Recovery emphasises that, while we may not have full control over our symptoms, we can have full control over our lives. Recovery is not about 'getting rid' of problems. It is about seeing beyond our mental health problems, and recognising and fostering our abilities, interests and dreams. Mental health problems and social attitudes towards them often impose limits on people and health professionals, friends and families can be overly protective or pessimistic about what someone with a mental health problem will be able to achieve. Recovery is about looking beyond those limits to help us achieve our own goals and aspirations.

Recovery in a secure hospital

Recovery in a secure or ‘forensic’ hospital can be more difficult. It may seem that in a secure hospital people only see the worst in us and not the best we can be. We are all detained under the mental health act (‘sectioned’) and we therefore have less control over our lives while in hospital. Other people hold the keys, decide when we can come and go, and even decide when we have tea and coffee. Almost all of us have committed criminal offences and somehow we have to recover not just from our mental health problems, but also from the times in our lives when we have behaved in an unacceptable way.

It may seem very difficult to move on in our lives while in a secure hospital. We may feel hopeless and very uncertain of the future. We may not want to engage with staff or others and we may be thinking ‘what’s the point?’. At a time when we don’t believe in ourselves it may be that other people have to be the ones believing in us and encouraging us to move forward with our lives. It may be staff, other patients or our family and friends that are the ones that hold on to the hope that our lives can get better.

Recovery is still possible in a secure hospital, but it may be slower and hard work. We have to work within the rules placed upon us and it takes a great deal of effort to get our lives back on track. But, there are still opportunities to do this in a secure hospital – there are people we can build supportive relationships with, there are treatments to help us to stay well, and there are activities we can take part in that will help us to grow as people. We can learn new skills and start to think about the future again.