Let’s talk about ‘recovery’ in mental health


Of all the things one gets to hear about mental health, we often do not hear the word ‘recovery’. This implies that though society encourages people to examine distress-causing issues through the lens of suffering or accessing mental health treatments, the acceptance of people once they enter treatment regimens is markedly changed. Do treatments have to continue for life and if yes, then what is the goal of such treatments? Do we need to talk about recovery at all, for is not the start of treatment the start of recovery itself? The answer to this question is both yes and NO, for it depends upon whose perspective is considered. In other words, depending upon stakeholders the perspective changes!

‘Recovery’ is an individualistic, cumulative outcome of diverse resources which add up to make someone healed, and whole

Introducing the series

This weekly series, much like the writer behind it, is dedicated to the idea of ‘recovery’ . It brings together an experience of engagement with the field for nearly three decades, of which the last decade (2010-2020) is spent exclusively on the idea of researching about ‘recovery’ or whether it is viable for a vast majority of people. This recovery series will principally be a response to the queries the writer, in her role as therapist, receives from diverse platforms, including emails which reflect people’s struggles to reclaim their mental wellness and lives, instead of necessarily looking at them through diagnostic categories.

Why should recovery matter?

When someone accepts the medical diagnosis of a mental health issue, they enter into the stage of becoming a patient. In that role they keep on getting treatment for years and years, and there seems to be no exit; especially when the diagnosis is schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Not only psychoses, increasingly people are coming under the remit of mental health diagnoses and unable to exit the ‘system’ for a lack of alternatives to reclaim their mental health and a reinforcement received from different ‘professionals’, the social milieu saturated with claims of rising incidence of mental health issues and efforts which are purportedly directed at stigma reduction. In such an environment anyone who gets a diagnosis, and their families, are so overwhelmed by the one sided representation of mental health as an illness claim that to think about recovery is certainly not on anyone’s mind; but only to get themselves/loved one treated and manage the ‘illness’.

A vast majority of people are unaware that mental health issues are not measurable ‘illnesses’ which can be established by any scientific evidence, pathological tests or measurements via any scales etc. What can be called ‘illness’ is dependent largely on the capacity of the person who is observing the disturbed person to pronounce a behaviour as ‘illness’ or an ab-normalcy; which in research is called epistemic privilege (someone’s knowledge given more credibility than another’s). This is NOT to say that a person who is experiencing suffering is faking their suffering or masquerading. This is to acknowledge their suffering as a reality which needs a different handling than a simple classification into a predetermined diagnostic category. This is simply to say that mental health issues are not biological illnesses which are treatable via biochemical means, the way they are made out to be- they are deep emotional disturbances which can also be resolved by talking, discussion and other ways, which we will examine in future articles here.

Recovery matters because the alternative, of lifelong patient-hood, is a painful, debilitating, disabling option for people/families and thereafter for society. It not only makes people dependent and insecure it leads scores of families into a downward spiral of infirmity and poverty. The usual option someone has is to either remain a patient, or having become a patient for a short while, when overwhelmed by suffering, take the path to recovery by slowly building their capacities to deal with life and its vicissitudes- a journey familiar to this writer. From thereon springs this urge to share these ideas/research and findings with fellow human beings and let others comprehend that if one person can recover, so can another- for this is how one lamp kindles another’s wick.

In the forthcoming posts you will read (when the posts are not direct responses to queries)

  • Why the idea of recovery is tied to human rights,
  • What are the three ways in which people can understand recovery
  • Why a majority of people do not believe they can recover
  • Stigma in mental health
  • Psychosis and recovery
Prateeksha Sharma, Ph.D.

Prateeksha Sharma, Ph.D.

Psychotherapist . Musicologist: nurturing life, one smile at a time

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