Sunday, 4 November 2012

Key areas in mental health recovery

Current initiatives around mental health focus on three key areas of support, anti-stigma and therapy. A fourth area 'recovery' is also an important part of the debate.

'Recovery' is controversial and misunderstood.  Recovery can be associated with 'cure' and the concept of a 'cure' in mental ill-health is not always helpful.  That is not to say that people with mental health conditions never talk of being cured or completely recovered.  Some do.

The predominant experience of living with a long-term mental health condition is one of managing symptoms and maintaining a life.

So recovery becomes a form of health management that allows for hopes, dreams and aspirations to develop and continue according to an individual's wishes and choices.

Thinking around recovery is intimately linked with ideas and concepts of social inclusion.  These ideas go back a long way.  They have their roots in the civil rights movement.  Activist Rosa Parkes' refusal to vacate a bus seat reserved for whites in Alabama Mississippi in 1955 marks a crucial moment in the history of social inclusion.  In some ways it changed everything.

As recently as the early 2000s social inclusion formed a major part of UK government thinking.  It was developed under the (then) office of the deputy prime minister and had a strong impact on policy and funding streams.

Along with recovery and social inclusion is a third term - 'mainstream'.

Mainstream is a key part of social inclusion and recovery because it is in the mainstream world that someone with a mental health condition is required to live, just as we all are.

With the knowledge that 'recovery takes place regardless of symptoms or problems' (New Horizons 2008), individuals with mental health diagnoses have the right to access mainstream areas without prejudice.  Someone with a mental health condition has dreams, hopes, aspirations and goals and it is only in the mainstream world where these have a chance of realisation.

In line with this thinking and policy-making, a whole body of materials was created in the early 2000s to help organisations make mainstream social inclusion possible.  By the mid-2000s third sector organisation working in mental health were often more likely to receive commissions and funding the more they could show a commitment to promoting mainstream.

The old way of thinking that limited people with long-term conditions to handouts, clinical settings, day centres and drop-ins was fast being re-shaped and re-made.

Mainstream recovery approaches are fast disappearing under the tide of cuts to funding and changes in commissioning.  It is an initiative in danger of being consigned to the category of yet another transitory trend in mental health and social inclusion.  This is despite the fact that referral to mainstream is highly cost-effective and has a deep impact on the lives of individuals.

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