In the not so distant past, professional mental health caregivers were taught that major mental illness was a progressively disabling disorder with a very poor prognosis.
That's changed now.
What has been learned since the late 1980s -- initially from listening to personal experiences of recovery and then through research -- is that recovery is the likely outcome. This is good news for those with mental illness.
Why has it taken so long for the truth of recovery to be recognized? In part because mental health disorders are so stigmatizing that few experiencing recovery want others to know of their illness. Too often, people with mental illness are considered dangerous, unpredictable, and unproductive. The label and stigma follow them like a dark shadow which profoundly marginalizes them.
Now, thanks to advances in treatment, many people recover from mental illness. And those people have stories to tell -- stories that will inspire and educate those that read and hear them.
In an effort to support the recovery of those with mental illness, Riverview Psychiatric Center, which I head, is requesting those willing to share their experiences of recovery with all of us, particularly those in need of hope and inspiration. What you have learned can help inspire others to believe that recovery is real and possible, not just a dream.
Once the stories are submitted, many of these experiences will appear on the Riverview web page: http://www.maine.gov/dhhs/riverview/index.shtml There, and as soon as the stories are collected, you'll be able to learn about people with mental illness, their family, friends, and service providers.
There is much discussion in the mental health field these days concerning the concept of recovery from mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, severe depression and bipolar disorder. Monumental reports such as the 1999 Surgeon's General Report and the 2003 Presidential Freedom Commission report as well as the Adult Mental Health Service Plan for Maine all reference this possibility.
Do people who have extreme difficulty in meeting their basic needs, threaten to hurt themselves and others, have been institutionalized and appear to be hopeless, actually recover? The answer may surprise you. Long-term research studies, some over 30-year periods, clearly predict that 50-70% of persons will achieve significant improvement in the course of their life. In recognition of this new understanding, William Anthony, Ph.D., executive director of the Boston University Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation, called the last decade the "Decade of Recovery."
The possible causes of long term decline for people with mental illness may have less to do with the disorders and more to do with the treatments, environmental influences and other social factors.
In the past, some people were placed within an institutional setting such as the old Augusta Mental Health Institute, where they were given very high doses of typical antipsychotic medications got very little in the way of modern rehabilitation therapies. For many, there was little hope that tomorrow would be any different than today. That would lead to a negative prognosis for just about anyone, regardless of their other challenges.
"Recovery" has different meanings to different people. Most definitions can be placed in one of two groups: clinical recovery and psychological recovery. There is strong evidence for both. Clinical recovery is possible when all symptoms of the mental health disorder cease to exist. Psychological recovery appears when the symptoms of the illness may still be present, but the individual is able to function and maintain control over their life.
If you, or someone you know, has a personal story of recovery, please send your stories to: Holly Dixon, Riverview Psychiatric Center, 11 State House Station, P.O.B 724, Augusta, Maine, 04332-0724
You may have seen the movie, "A Beautiful Mind," where Dr. John Nash's character fell deep into mental illness and experienced hallucinations and delusions. But after a period of institutionalization, Nash regained and maintained his role as a father, husband, teacher, and friend. Pat Deegan, a consumer leader and psychologist with schizophrenia, says recovery from serious mental illness is "rediscovering meaning and purpose after a series of catastrophic events, which mental illness is."
David S. Proffitt is the Superintendent of the Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta