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Recovery, not defeat

February 6, 2015
by Ron Manderscheid, PhD
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The most powerful word in our behavioral health lexicon is recovery. Why? Because it creates real lives and promotes future hope. It can even open key doors to enlightened and dramatic care reforms.

How absolutely dramatic and revolutionary. And this in a field traditionally consigned by many to the bin of failure.

For decades and centuries, persons with serious mental illnesses and substance use conditions were widely assumed by community members, by professionals, and even by themselves to be in a permanent state of chronic illness—a state of defeat. These antediluvian concepts persisted broadly even into the early 2000s. They still persist in some quarters today, despite dramatic evidence to the contrary.

And irony of ironies, recovery entered our lexicon not through researchers or providers, but through mental health and substance use clients themselves. Through their personal reflection, trial and error, efforts at wellness and simple determination, many consumers came to realize that they could regain their own voice; they could regain a full life. They also came to realize that their own recovery journey is life-long.

Recovery is not a journey alone. Other consumers, family members, friends, providers and good care are fellow travelers on a person's road to recovery. A trusted provider who understands trauma can play a key role. So can a community that reaches out to be inclusive and offer support.

What else has helped to foster our recovery revolution?

The efforts of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Sevices Administration (SAMHSA) have been foundational. The agency has helped to clarify the characteristics and meaning of recovery in everyday life, as well as its fundamental importance to everyone with a mental health or substance use condition. SAMHSA also has helped to clarify the corrosive effects of trauma and the centrality of trauma-informed care in the recovery process.

Principally because of SAMHSA leadership, person-centered care, whole-person care, shared-decision making and supported-decision making are well recognized and established recovery tools in the mental health and substance use care fields. In each of these areas, behavioral health is years ahead of other fields in implementing these new care approaches for persons with serious and debilitating conditions.

Throughout its almost 23 year history, the preponderance of SAMHSA resources and programming has been focused upon those with the most serious mental illness and substance use conditions—those who have the greatest stake in personal recovery. Without any doubt whatsoever, millions of testimonials could be written to document how consumers with these serious conditions have been helped to recover through SAMHSA programs.

An excellent overview of SAMHSA activities and accomplishments can be found here.

Equally important, key performance markers also are available to document progress. For example, a quarter century ago, only 5 percent of persons with serious mental illness were employed. Today, that number has risen to 25 percent. This is remarkable progress!



Ron Manderscheid

Exec. Dir., NACBHDD and NARMH

Ron Manderscheid


Ron Manderscheid, Ph.D., serves as the Executive Director of the National Association of County...

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