Recovery & mental health


If there’s one word that most patients and their families utter when they are unwell, especially mentally, it is, “recovery”. .As mental health practitioners we wish we could be able to say within 5 days you will recover fully however this is not the case.

Traditionally, recovery has referred to absence of disease, or cure. This makes sense when applied to a short-lived condition such as tonsillitis, but its relevance in more enduring or chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure, an amputated limb or mental disorder, is questionable. This has a powerful effect on how healthcare is provided and it also breeds a sense of hopelessness, which dramatically decreases the chance of the person ever getting better. If there is no hope, why bother even trying?

However, long-term follow-up studies increasingly show that the vast majority of people with mental disorders can get better over an extended period of time, particularly when they receive the right kind of support.

recovery centre article

Making recovery a reality

The reality of recovery views mental illness as a personal process, that can be aided by support services. Jacobson and Greenley, have emphasized that four ‘internal conditions’ need to be present for recovery to take place:

  • Hope that recovery is possible, generating a frame of mind that allows this to occur through belief in possibility of healing
  • Understanding that healing is different to cure, and that the emphasis is on self rather than illness.
  • Empowerment as a corrective for the sense of helplessness and dependency that comes with severe mental illness and with traditionally paternalistic services. This also involves focusing on one’s strength
  • Connection with society and knowledge of one’s roles in it, this creates a sense of purpose.


The new understanding of mental illness recovery begins with a conceptualization of recovery as a journey, rather than an endpoint. This journey begins with recognition of the existence of a mental health problem and the desire to set out on a path to healing. The focus is on acceptance of the reality of the illness, but also on the fact that one is still a whole person, with the possibility of a satisfying life, full of hope and meaning, regardless of whether symptoms are present or not. Mental illness recovery is a process.

winfrey achieng

By Winfrey Achieng,
Hospital Psychologist,
Chiromo Hospital Group.

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