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Living meaningfully with mental illness: Experiences during mental health recovery

A recent study sought to understand the concept of living well with mental illness, focusing on the complex process of recovery.

There is growing evidence that mental illnesses like schizophrenia are not life-long as they were thought to be. There is a wealth of qualitative data of first-person, published testimonies of individuals living with these conditions. Many of these narratives indicate that despite the symptoms of mental illness, there are people living lives of personal meaning and value. The need of the hour is to focus on the journey towards recovery, with emphasis on the various complexities underlying schizophrenia.

Dominant or mainstream models of recovery do not emphasize the complex situations and difficulties in individual recovery. A recent study sought to enrich the existing discussion on mental illness and recovery by understanding the diversity of experiences for those living with a condition. The research examines the experiences of individuals involved in a Sydney-based Partners in Recovery Program (PIR). This government-funded program was established to help those with complex barriers or needs and persistent mental illness. This research article was recently published in BMC Psychiatry.

Central to the PIR are support facilitators, who meet with the participants to understand their needs and goals and attempt to bring together the services they require to recover effectively. The researchers conducted semi-structured, in-depth interviews to develop the understanding of participants’ experiences in journeying towards mental health recovery. The participants were from an area of high social disadvantage.

The research included 13 participants, of which 11 were female and two were male, between the ages of 18 and 65.  Each participant had their individual support facilitator present during the interviews. The support facilitators monitored participants throughout the interviews for signs of distress, and participants could stop the interview completely or take a break if they were distressed during the interview.

Participants thought of mental health recovery as an ongoing challenge

The participants all described their mental health recovery to be a positive experience with ups and downs and as an ongoing, challenging and active process. Participants described their recovery as a “fight” and acknowledged the need to be active in their personal recovery process. Fighting against negative impulses to withdraw from the recovery journey and accepting help and support while also battling stigma was an important aspect of coping with mental illness.

Recovery from mental illness is a complex process

Participants acknowledged the struggle for basic physical needs such as the need for food, money, and stable accommodation. The common finding of the study is that for people living with severe mental illness recovery is a complex process. A number of non-clinical aspects clearly need attention when focusing on recovery and quality of life parameters for those battling mental illness. Holistic focus on the individual and ensuring basic needs such as housing security can go a long way towards better recovery in the long run. Participants chose to focus on relational enablers and barriers than focusing on the symptoms of their illness. People, material resources, and emotional support and safety are crucial to allowing people to prioritize their recovery.

The limitations of this study also need to be taken into account. Voluntary participation meant others that were at a similar point in their recovery, but did not choose to engage in the study, were not reflected in the results. Support facilitators also chose participants who were deemed to be able to participate in the study without undue distress. The results gathered must be considered within these limitations.

Written by Sonia Leslie Fernandez, Medical News Writer

Reference: Hancock, N., Smith-Merry, J., Jessup, G., Wayland, S., & Kokany, A. (2018). Understanding the ups and downs of living well: the voices of people experiencing early mental health recovery. BMC Psychiatry18(1), 121.



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