By Janis Campbell
We are wired for connection, yet many of us are living in an increasingly individualistic and isolated society. Isolation has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic where we found ourselves needing to disconnect as a matter of survival. As difficult as this has been, it has given us the opportunity to find new ways of developing connections and a sense of belonging.
We know that being connected to others or to a community is good for wellbeing, yet it is not often part of discussions in most mental health service settings. Medical models of mental health care tend to focus on identifying and treating what is wrong instead of taking a holistic view of a person. There is an underlying presumption that people needing support for their mental wellbeing, are ill and in need of ongoing professional help. The recovery movement turns these types of assumptions upside down. Systems that are recovery-oriented are built upon recovery* principles that value strengths, inclusion, diversity, building community, and connection. The wisdom embedded in recovery processes is rooted in connection, strength, and hope. Peer Support is a great example of a recovery-oriented practice that builds community and supportive relationships among people with lived/living experiences of mental health challenges and/or their families. In fact, Peer Support is considered to be a core component of most recovery-oriented systems.
Recovery in Stepped Care 2.0 is conceptualized as a diverse set of principles, assumptions, values, and practices that aim to empower people experiencing mental health challenges, along with their families and communities. SC 2.0 models are holistic in nature and recognize the importance and strengths of individuals and communities. These ideas are interwoven throughout our work and can be seen in our guiding principles such as: All individuals have strength and capacity, and professionals do not carry all of the wisdom. Themes of recovery-oriented practice include client-centric care, hope, empowerment, and inclusion, as well as a focus on the social-determinants of health, human rights, interconnectedness, and self-determination. Recovery in SC 2.0 is understood to be a unique journey that looks different for each person and is guided by choice, preference and readiness. This opens access to a wide range of support and resources, both formal and informal, tailored to match the varying strengths and preferences of help-seekers. An organized gathering of peers, a book club, e-mental health tools, and professional psychological services are all considered equally valuable options in a SC 2.0 system.
Even with the challenges we currently live in, there is hope. I see sparks of hope everywhere! While the pandemic has increased general awareness of gaps that were already in our systems, there are good things coming out of this. Suddenly we are seeing a rise in the use of e-mental health platforms. This is becoming the norm for people who have access. Now, we can connect with others inside and outside of their home communities which addresses some major access issues. While e-mental health resources are not accessible or preferable to everyone, they have a significant role to play moving forward and I expect this to remain the case long after the threat of the pandemic is over.
*A note about language: There are many, diverse conceptualizations of recovery in mental health and substance use. It is important to remember that recovery is a construct. “It is an individual choice to self-identify with certain expressions or concepts, but human rights still apply to everyone, everywhere. Above all, a diagnosis or disability should never define a person. We are all individuals, with a unique social context, personality, autonomy, dreams, goals and aspirations and relationships with others” (World Health Organization, 2019, p. xxii).
World Health Organization QualityRights. (2019). Person-centred recovery planning for mental health and well-being self-help tool. Geneva, World Health Organization.