Mental-health experts define 'recovery'

Recovery is a beautiful word for people suffering from a mental illness or addiction. But what does it mean? A year-long project by experts nationwide has led to a new definition of the term that is meant to help doctors, counselors and policymakers who oversee the field.

And it just might help people who are in recovery, too.

The new definition is thoughtful, if not pithy:

"A process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential."

The definition was announced Thursday by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. It's "a significant milestone in promoting greater public awareness and appreciation for the importance of recovery, and widespread support for the services that can make it a reality for millions of Americans," said SAMHSA administrator Pamela S. Hyde.

As part of SAMHSA's Recovery Support Strategic Initiative, researchers and other mental-health experts also clarified four major dimensions that support a life in recovery:

  • Health: overcoming or managing one's disease(s) as well as living in a physically and emotionally healthy way;
  • Home: a stable and safe place to live;
  • Purpose: meaningful daily activities, such as a job, school, volunteerism, family caretaking or creative endeavors, and the independence, income and resources to participate in society;
  • Community: relationships and social networks that provide support, friendship, love and hope.

The document, which was open for public comment earlier this year, also explains the "guiding principles" of recovery, which include such beliefs as recovery is driven by the individual, recovery is holistic and recovery occurs via many pathways.

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