Experiences of psychosis


The people we spoke to had different ideas of what recovery meant, and if recovery was something that was achievable by them in their lives. Traditionally, people with mental health problems - especially serious diagnoses like schizophrenia - were mostly not expected to recover fully. Today, attitudes have begun to change. Many organisations and mental health services now promote a ‘recovery’ approach, regardless of whether or not professionals believe that people can fully get better.

Recovery is a concept that is difficult to pin down. While clinical recovery usually means an absence of psychiatric symptoms (e.g. voices, delusions), individual recovery can be a very personal thing, involving finding hope and meaning in life, despite having gone through traumatic experiences. In this section, people talk about personal recovery, but also what recovery may mean in a wider political context. Recovery can mean anything from establishing a meaningful life, participating more fully in life, taking two steps forward and one step back, or finding a way to thrive despite all the challenges imposed by distress and even the catastrophes along the way. Many of the topics covered in this section are also covered in other sections in more detail' for example ‘Strategies for coping’, ‘Views about causes and traumatic experiences’ and ‘Medication’.
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When talking about recovery, people spoke about developing a whole range of approaches. For example, they described trying to understand better the causes of their distress; using medication; gradual improvement over the passage of time; the support they received from family and friends; changes made to lifestyles (e.g. reducing illicit drug use); acquiring safe housing and a stable income; developing themselves through education, self-development (e.g. meditation) and work; and exploring different aspects of themselves through talking therapies. Several people said that there was no single way to recover, and they had to do what worked for them. People said it was possible to live with ‘symptoms’ such as voices, or still be on psychiatric medication, yet still find ways to recover. Other people said that they should be able to feel sadness, anger, pain and loss, without being told they were suffering from a mental illness.
Personal journeys
Many people said that recovery was a very personal journey but that they still sometimes needed the help of others. Even when people had recovered they still experienced difficult times. Some people were encouraged by early gains but suffered setbacks. Peter went ‘cold turkey’ without any psychiatric medication' a strategy that he now wouldn’t recommend to anyone. Some people started with goals such as going out of the house, or even getting up out of bed in the morning.
Some people talked about a ‘turning point’ or a catalyst for their recovery - such as meeting a particular therapist or understanding more about what led to their psychosis. Others did not mention a key event, but noticed things changing slowly over time.
As part of recovery, many people talked about reclaiming aspects of their life such as their former self, a job, income, friends, and being able to take up hobbies again. However, others said that psychosis had changed them, and their lives, for good. Sometimes people felt they had gained rich insights about themselves and life through their experiences. Sometimes people spoke about never feeling, or expecting to be, fully ‘well’. Rachel said that she had normally been able to recover quickly from psychotic episodes, but now she only feels 85% since the last time she was unwell. She has decided to go on a recovery course, as well as go and see her psychologist.
A number of participants were less hopeful about the idea of recovery. Gary said that he had been told there was no such thing as recovery, Stuart said that it was ‘acceptance’ that had helped him, and not recovery. Rachel felt that recovery was being ‘able to function’ and ‘hold down a job’ along with having a home life and a family. However, she didn’t feel ‘very near’ to these goals as she felt ‘fairly paranoid’. Arwen said that living with schizophrenia was a ‘huge part of her life’ that she had to deal with through taking tablets, and that she would probably have it until she died.
Thinking about recovery in mental health services
Some of the people we interviewed had worked within mental health services, or had been part of advocacy groups. They had developed their understandings about what recovery means through working with clients and organisations. As with other people, there was also a wide range of views about recovery here'

Last reviewed July 2017.
Last updated April 2014.
Last reviewed April 2014.
Last updated April 2014.


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