Recovery in mental health

There is increasing national and international interest in the idea of recovery, particularly in the field of mental health and psychiatry. It is a concept that has attracted considerable enthusiasm and hope in an area often characterised by disillusionment and defeat. The present interest in recovery arose from the experiences of people with severe mental health problems. Since then professional bodies, health care agencies and governments have become increasingly interested in adopting recovery as the guiding principle for mental health policy, practice and services.

Recovery in mental health services has three main meanings: a spontaneous and natural event, overcoming problems without intervention the intended consequence of the skilful use of the full range of effective treatments and personal recovery that can occur in the context of continuing symptoms or disabilities.

The first usage relates to resilience and robustness and is poorly understood the second is the focus of evidence-based practice and treatment guidelines and the third is fundamentally about recovery of hope and ambition for living full and purposeful lives whatever the circumstances. It is this definition that is informing some current thinking on the future direction in mental health services.


Personal recovery focuses on collaboration, partnership working and self-directed care, all of which lead to choice and control for people who use services, their families and other supporters. A recovery approach may therefore be applicable across a wide variety of client groups and connects with many of the ways in which cultures approach health challenges.

It is an approach that positively values different cultural understandings and as such can begin to fuse learning from our current UK population that includes European, Eastern and African worldviews to inform services for the 21st Century.

Recovery is the process of regaining active control over one’s life.

This may involve:

● Discovering (or rediscovering) a positive sense of self.
● Accepting and coping with the reality of any ongoing distress or disability.
● Finding meaning in one’s experiences, resolving personal.
● Social or relationship issues that may contribute to one’s mental health difficulties.
● Taking on satisfying and meaningful roles.
● And calling on formal and/or informal systems of support as needed.

Services can be an important aspect of recovery but the extent of the need for services will vary from one person to another. For some people, recovery may mean exiting from mental health services either permanently or for much of the time.

For others it may mean continuing to receive ongoing forms of medical, personal or social support that enable people to get on with their lives.

Further information

● Position paper 08: A common purpose: Recovery in future mental health services 

● Research resource 03: The recovery approach in community-based vocational and training adult mental health day services



Related articles

Key practice themes in recovery

Research abstracts: Findings on mental health recovery

Essential information on mental health



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