Challenging How We View Mental Health

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Image by Brian Jeffery Beggerly, copyright protected.

Demessew is a Twining Employment Advisor for Ealing. Here, he blogs about his approach to employment support and his thoughts on the ‘Recovery Model’; through his review of Social Inclusion & Recovery: A Model for Mental Health Practice by Julie Repper and Rachel Perkins (published by Bailliere Tindal, 2003).

Different approaches to mental health have an impact on how we support, treat, and relate to people with mental health problems. In the book, Social Inclusion & Recovery: A Model for Mental Health Practice, the ‘Recovery Model’ is preferred.

It is an approach I try to use, as an Employment Advisor, because it looks at what someone can do rather than focusing on what they can’t. I hope that with all the stigma that surrounds mental health, the ‘Recovery Model’ can give all of us a better framework for looking at mental health more positively.

According to the authors, traditionally mental health professionals have focused on deficit and dysfunction when talking about mental health problems. This type of focus, where a person is labelled just as a ‘patient’, is rarely the best approach. It can result in a person losing their sense of identity and self. It takes away choice and control.  

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On the other hand, the ‘Recovery Model’ focuses on a person’s strengths, with a view to enabling them to take responsibility for their recovery and to re-build their life. Recovery is described as, “building valuable and satisfying lives beyond the limits imposed by difficulties.” 

At one point, the writers emphasise the importance of instilling and encouraging hope, and aspiration even if it sounds unrealistic:

The important thing about ambition and dreams is not their plausibility but their ability to give direction and meaning to our endeavours. So when someone says they want to become a brain surgeon or run a record company, we would be better advised to help him/her think about how he can get there, rather than making judgement that he/she can’t get there

I agree with most of the authors’ conclusions on the role of the ‘Recovery Model’. However, I am sceptical about whether encouraging unrealistic expectations or goals can work in the context of employment support. Goals should be high enough to motivate and challenge but should also reflect skills, circumstances, and resources. Unrealistic goals could lead to frustration and in the long term could be detrimental to mental health. Realism in this case is not meant to be discouraging; but to take the ‘Recovery Model’ seriously we must focus on someone’s strengths, skills, and hopes and turn these into sustainable outcomes.

For the most part, this book gives us a good insight into the ‘Recovery Model’. I believe that training, education, and employment play a crucial role in making it work. By helping our clients identify their strengths and encouraging them to aspire; we can create hope inspiring relationships, which in turn can contribute to recovery.

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