New Research on What Recovery from Serious Mental Illness Means to Individuals
ARLINGTON, Va. (September 3, 2013) — Using a technique called photovoice, researchers explored what recovery from mental illness and substance use disorders means to individuals. Key themes that emerged from the study included spirituality, life achievement, and receiving and providing support. The research is presented in the September issue of Psychiatric Services, a publication of the American Psychiatric Association.
Photovoice is a participatory research approach in which a group of people take pictures to document their daily realities and create narratives about them to present to others in group discussions. Past research has shown that photovoice often empowers participants to engage in activities that promote positive change in their communities.
The study was conducted by Leopoldo J. Cabassa, Ph.D., and colleagues at two supported housing agencies in New York City and participants included people with serious mental illness and a history of substance abuse and homelessness. During a period of six weeks, sixteen photovoice participants came together weekly to discuss, in individual interviews and group sessions, the photographs they had taken to document what recovery meant to them.
The method helped provide perspectives on the lives of individuals in recovery that are not often captured with traditional research methods. The authors note that a better understanding of what recovery means to people with serious mental illness and the interrelationships between recovery dimensions can help providers develop and improve recovery-oriented services.
The authors used a number of analytic techniques to identify recovery themes:
Spirituality – Participants discussed how they relied on their spirituality to support their sobriety and cope with addictions. For many, spirituality was an important source of strength. Prayer or other practices were part of their daily routine along with conventional mental health treatments.
Life achievements – Educational and vocational achievements contributed to increasing self-esteem and reducing self-stigma. Many participants discussed how going back to school, graduating from vocational programs, or finding employment restored a sense of purpose and self-worth. For example one participated noted after achieving a vocational goal, “I’m in the healing process from a lot of stigma that society has put on me, a lot of self-stigma that I placed upon myself, and I’m actually living in society and doing productive things, so I’m healing, and I’m putting that stigma to rest.”
Receiving and providing support – Addressing the social dimensions of recovery, participants discussed how social networks helped shift unhealthy behaviors and the benefits they got from providing support to loved ones. The act of being there for someone they care about enabled them to feel needed and to use their experiences to help peers in their recovery.
The American Psychiatric Association is a national medical specialty society whose physician members specialize in the diagnosis, treatment, prevention and research of mental illnesses, including substance use disorders. Visit the APA at www.psychiatry.org. See also suggestions and tips for reporting on mental health issues.
Source: American Psychiatric Association News Release, Sept 2013