Mental health: ethnic minority experiences


Ways of describing mental health recovery
Traditionally, people with mental health problems - especially severe mental health problems such as schizophrenia - were not expected to 'recover'. Attitudes have changed and many organisations now promote a recovery approach. Rethink defines recovery as “a personal process of tackling the adverse impact of experiencing mental health problems, despite their continuing or long-term presence” and as different from a “cure”. 

Many of the people we interviewed had a similar view of recovery. Many hoped for recovery or described themselves as recovered. People described short term recovery from an episode of, for example, psychosis or depression, as bouncing back or “like coming out of a trance”. Some people found it hard to remember what it had been like when they were ill, while others could remember details of how they had felt and behaved. Some described long term recovery as a “journey” or referred to going through cycles of being well and then unwell [see Hanif below]. Others referred to the ongoing nature of recovery or “healing” and the need for ongoing support. Some felt that they would never get rid of their symptoms but could improve and control them, including one man who described his diagnosis of personality disorder as “untreatable".

Accordingly, some people who had experienced relapses or continued to experience symptoms still considered themselves to be recovered. Others, however, did not see the continuation of their symptoms in this way: “I still to this day have mental health issues: I just can't seem to get over it”.

Several people felt that being well on medication was not the same thing as being cured. Some thought that a cure for mental health problems was unlikely because of the “scar” left by memories and experiences that caused mental health problems (see 'View about causes of mental health problems: social & environmental factors'). Although some people had experimented with stopping their medication and experienced a relapse as a result, many had come to terms with having to take it (see 'Not taking prescribed medication').

Others felt unhappy about the idea of always having a mental health problem (see Marlene's story) and always having to take medication (see Niabingi's story). And, while very few people had hope for a cure, in the sense of no longer having a mental health problem, some still wondered whether it was possible. 

The meaning of recovery could also be very personal.

Signs of recovery

Many people recognised recovery as regaining things they had lost when unwell, including being able to cope and look after themselves, do housework, go out and go to work (see 'Anxiety, negativity, mania & loss of energy'). Recovery also involved a reduction in symptoms, such as fewer panic attacks or voices being less prominent (see 'Hallucinations & delusions'). Some people also referred to not having to go back to hospital. Many mentioned getting back to “normal”, although some felt that they could never have a “normal” life like other people and considered themselves to be a different person as a result of their mental health problems [see Dolly above] (see 'Ways of describing mental health problems'). 

Things that help recovery

Some people felt that it was important to take recovery one step at a time, and one man thought it was important to avoid measuring your recovery. Many people emphasised that recovery was not automatic but takes time, perseverance and hard work, including one woman who described it as being “like wading through treacle”.

A few people also mentioned the importance of forgiving yourself and feeling accepted; their feeling was that other people's perceptions could help or hinder recovery.

Having the right attitude is also important. Some people talked about how you must be tough and want to “fight”, including one woman who said that believing that you'll have a normal life was “as good as a cure”. Others felt it was important to accept yourself and the mental health problem, learn to live with it and just get on with life. Many people referred to the value of learning and understanding more about the condition (see 'Getting information about mental health'), recognising “danger signals” and getting the “tools” to control it. Some people made changes to their lifestyle, including avoiding situations that trigger their symptoms. Other things that were felt to help included stable housing, fast assessment, medication, natural remedies, and for one man, not having to go to work. (See 'What else helps'.)

Many people recognised the possibility of becoming unwell again, especially if they did not follow their own advice.

Last reviewed September 2018.

Last updated February 2013.


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