As late as the 1950s, it was still commonly believed that one could not recover from a mental disorder. Perhaps that is why many still seem to think that mental disorders are lifelong permanently affect life. Nowadays we know that patients can either fully recover from most mental disorders or that, with proper treatment, they can be made almost asymptomatic. Recovery is an individual process and whether it happens fast or slow depends on many things. Recovery may also advance “in waves”: sometimes the patient does worse and sometimes better.
Many mental health rehabilitees emphasise the importance of accepting themselves in the recovery process. For example, people who have suffered from depression have said that they had experienced feelings of inferiority and lack of acceptance from other people long before their depression was diagnosed. Depression or other mental disorders may generate feelings of guilt and shame, and recovery often will not start until these feelings are dealt with: it is important to understand that the feelings of guilt and shame are unfounded and that everyone is valuable.
The experiences of inclusion, acceptance and being heard are important to the recovery process. The concept of peer support is based exactly on these factors. Unlike work life, for example, people are not valued for their external performances in peer support groups.
Sometimes the recovery process will change the person on a profound level. His/her life may previously have been based on performance and achievement of goals, and thus a sense of unfamiliarity may be associated with the mental disorder: “this powerless and hopeless person cannot be me”. During the recovery process, the values and identity of the person usually change and become clearer. The recovery from a disorder may also make the person question his/her life in a new way: What makes me happy? What are my priorities?
People recovering from mental disorders often have strengths many other people may be lacking. However, these strengths often go unnoticed by the people around them as they keep focusing on the problems and weaknesses involved in the mental disorder. The strengths of people recovering from mental disorders include the ability to live on a very low income, knowledge of the social security system, finding and identifying personal mental resources, the strength to live with a stigma, and the ability to understand the lives of other people in difficult situations.
Many mental health rehabilitees have successfully experienced situations and conditions they never imagined they would survive. People who have undergone such experiences may be very skilled in supporting other people in difficult life situations.
If recovery is prolonged
Someone suffering from a mental disorder may often think about the following questions: “How much longer is this going to last?” “Will I ever get better?” Recovery varies from one person to another and its progress depends on the nature of the disorder and on finding the right treatment methods. Everyone recovers at his/her own pace, and even healthcare professionals are not comfortable giving any time estimates for recovery. Even people who once applied for disability pension may later recover really well.
Even if the patient shows no signs of recovery, one can never know how soon recovery may start. In addition, good and bad periods often take turns in long-term mental disorders. During a bad phase, the patient should have faith and believe that better times may be just around the corner. Some mental disorders require medication years after the disappearance of symptoms, as the risk of recurrence is too high.
Finding the right treatment method and/or medication in long-term illnesses can take time and patience. It is possible that the disorder may not be fully cured even with proper treatment but the symptoms may disappear almost completely. It is good to remember that medication and other treatment methods are constantly being developed. For example, the treatment of depression has developed significantly over the past decades, and it continues to develop. Also, there has been improvements in medication used for the treatment of psychosis. In order to recover, the patient should commit to the treatment, i.e. have a positive attitude towards treatment and often demand experimentation on different forms of treatment.
People with long-term illnesses have founded their own peer support groups. Support groups allow the patients to share their experiences with other people suffering from the same disorder. Adapting to and accepting the long-term illness generally requires work both by the patients and their friends and families. As the disorder often affects work and livelihood, support groups may offer good tips for dealing with many issues.