Each September, SAMHSA, the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration sponsors “National Recovery Month” to increase awareness of mental health and substance use issues. Some of the key themes of the month-long event are that mental health is essential to overall health, prevention works, treatments are effective, and recovery is possible.
The Recovery Month theme for 2015 is “Join the Voices for Recovery: Visible, Vocal, Valuable!” The initiative encourages persons with mental health or substance use issues and their supporters to become active in promoting positive change through advocacy events by discussing prevention, treatment, and recovery. High school and college students, families, and peer networks all have unique opportunities to promote and educate others about mental and physical health.
The Recovery Month web page provides a thorough review of important statistics about mental illness and substance use in the US. These data (from 2013) include:
- Nearly one in five persons(about 43.8 million people) had a diagnosable mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder (not including developmental or substance use disorders).
- 21.6 million people (age 12 or older) had a substance dependence or misuse disorder.
- 24.6 million people (age 12 or older) were current (past month) illicit drug users.
- Binge alcohol use among older adults (age 65 and above) was 9.1 percent or 3.9 million people.
- 22.7 million individuals (age 12 or older) needed treatment for an illicit drug or alcohol use problem, but only 2.5 million received treatment at a specialty facility in the past year.
- 7.7 million adults had both a substance use disorder and a mental illness in the past year.
- By 2020, mental health and substance use disorders will surpass all physical diseases as a major cause of disability worldwide.
The importance of treatment and early intervention
Despite the enormity of these issues, two-thirds of Americans believe treatment and support can help people lead more fulfilling lives. For many people, mental health treatment is an important part of the recovery process. Also, prevention and early intervention strategies can be very effective.
In 2013, 72.6 percent of youth (ages 12 to 17) reported having been exposed to drug or alcohol prevention messages from sources other than their school. Recent illicit drug use was lower among youth who reported they had received prevention messages compared with those who did not have exposure to such messages.
Research has shown that most people who start and continue with treatment do stop using drugs, have less criminal activity, and show improved emotional, occupational, and social functioning.
What is recovery?
Excerpted from the Recovery Month web page, several guiding principles show that recovery:
- Emerges from hope, which is fostered by friends, families, providers, colleagues, and others who have experienced recovery themselves
- Occurs via many pathways, which may include professional clinical treatment, use of medications, support from families and in schools, faith-based approaches, peer support, and other approaches
- Is holistic, meaning recovery encompasses a person’s whole life including mind, body, spirit, and community
- Is supported by relationships with peers and allies, and on social networks
- Is culturally based and influenced
- Is supported by addressing trauma, including physical or sexual abuse, domestic violence, war, disaster, or profound loss
- Involves individual, family, and community strengths and responsibilities
- Is fostered by respect
Additionally, recovery includes four major dimensions: 1) Health: Both physical and mental health are important, and learning to manage one’s condition(s) or symptom(s) through informed, healthy choices. 2) Home: Having a safe, stable place to live. 3) Purpose: Participation in meaningful activities, including work, school, volunteering, hobbies, interests, or other fulfilling pursuits. 4) Community: Building relationships and social networks which can provide support, friendship, love, and hope.
What recovery isn’t
I’m also acutely aware that some exceptionally astute and courageous people with the lived experience of mental health conditions or trauma sometimes discourage the use of the term “recovery” as they state it’s not possible to “recover” from a significant mental illness or addiction. They assert it is misleading and creates false expectations to suggest that one can ultimately be “recovered” from these conditions.
I totally understand this perspective and do agree that being “recovered” in the sense of having all of one’s problems or symptoms completely or permanently resolved is not an accurate depiction of how people live or cope with significant mental illnesses, addictions or trauma-related issues.
Let’s set aside the unrealistic notion that recovery is somehow ultimately reaching a point at which there is a complete absence of symptoms or distress. Such a view will only set oneself up for eventual disappointment.
A more realistic and attainable perspective is to think of recovery as an ongoing process involving change, growth, and progress toward overall wellness, working to achieve self-directed personal goals and striving to reach one’s highest potential.
It’s also been suggested that we might be better served by focusing more on hope than on recovery. I think the two go hand in hand. Without hope, there is almost certainly no likelihood of growth or progress toward reaching one’s personal recovery goals.
Take action now
There’s a wealth of material on the Recovery Month website to help you plan advocacy events, educate others, and do targeted outreach with youth, families, and peers. There are also a number of personal recovery stories which are both empowering and courageous. Let’s all take action now to help fulfill the campaign’s theme to “join the voices for recovery.”
Here’s a question: How can you get involved to promote recovery related to mental health or substance use issues? Please leave a comment. Also please consider subscribing to my blog and feel free to follow me on Twitter, “like” my Facebook page, or connect on LinkedIn. Thanks!