To be diagnosed as having a mental illness usually implies that one has not only been plagued with the relevant symptoms of a condition for a significant period of time (ranging from a few weeks to several months), but that one has also suffered impairments in social, leisure and occupational areas of functioning. Therefore, when doctors talk of recovery, they refer to the recovery made in these crucial areas of functioning. What “recovery” means to the individual sufferer, is however an entirely different story, and may differ vastly in meaning from one person to another. What researchers such as Blanch, Fisher, Tucker and Chassman (undated) agree upon, is that woven into the process of recovery is the construction of meaning, and the ability to find something instructive about one’s personal experience of illness. From the numerous accounts derived from individuals who have recovered from various mental illnesses, researchers have succeeded in identifying common themes pervasive in all.
1. Firstly, what is more or less agreed upon is that recovery is an active, ongoing and individual process, that takes many forms and occurs internally. It may also present as being very distinct from the treatment one may have been prescribed to deal with the disorder.
2. Recovery refers not only to the cessation of symptoms, but also to the overcoming of secondary damage brought about by the stigma, discrimination and abuse one may have encountered during the experience of being ill.
3. Hope is possibly the most essential factor in ensuring one’s recovery from an illness.
4. Critical to recovery is the establishment of a sense of control or free will. This ties in with recovery being an active process, demanding both time and dedication.
5. In addition to learning from doctors and other informed individuals it is also important to learn from observing one’s own past and present, mental and emotional behaviour. Problems may appear repeatedly, often giving the appearance of little progress having been made across time. However, upon closer inspection, incremental learning may have in fact taken place.
6. A possible consequence of mental illness is disinterest in activities that one previously enjoyed or found satisfying. It is consequently extremely important that one attempts to maintain both the activities and relationships that one valued before, during and after one’s illness. Don’t give up anything you enjoy!
7. Help need not lie only in professional spheres. Self-help books which teach effective coping strategies have also been found to be highly beneficial. Teaching oneself relaxation techniques, for instance, may ease one’s anxiety in terms of stress reduction.
8. Joining a support group, or even helping to run a support group in your own area, may provide a means of eroding the sense of isolation that is often felt when one is mentally ill. This may even prove a rewarding and satisfying experience in its own right. Organisations like the Depression and Anxiety Support Group can help in this regard, in addition to providing information, referrals, as well as telephonic counselling and support to those in need.
9. The final, and perhaps most integral aspect of recovery, is the process of deriving meaning from one’s experience of illness. It is the ability of some individuals to extract something helpful or personally relevant from their experience of being ill, that appears to be the most critical component of the recovery process.