When we hear the word 'recovery', we may think about symptoms and cure because if someone is diagnosed with a physical health condition, treatment usually involves curing symptoms. However, in mental ill-health, recovery means much more.

We don't believe recovery is something that we do to you, we think it is something that you lead yourself: that you take ownership of and work towards step-by-step.

Recovery can seem daunting and it can be difficult to know where to start, so it's important that you receive support along the way. We are here to help you in your recovery journey by providing the information, skills and care you need to manage your condition and live a meaningful life.

Central to our approach to recovery is the notion that we are partners working together and collaborating in your care.

About recovery

Mental health is something that affects us all and can change over the course of our lives. Being mentally healthy means much more than just being free from mental illness. Good mental health also includes:

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We believe that mental health is a continuum.

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Where we are on this continuum at any one point in time can be based on a number of factors, such as our current life circumstances and experience of stressful life events. It can also be influenced by our biological and psychological vulnerability to mental ill-health.

We all experience events in life that can make us feel low, angry, stressed or scared. Some of the factors of good mental health can help us during difficult times, acting as protective factors. For the most part, negative thoughts and feelings come and go and we begin to move back towards the mentally healthy end of the continuum. However, for some of us, we can get stuck in a spiral of negative thoughts, feelings and unhelpful behaviour. If these feelings persist, they can develop into a more serious mental health condition. In this case, we experience mental ill–health when our difficulties start to get in the way of us doing things.

Roughly a quarter of the population experience a mental health condition in any one year. 'Mental illness' is a general term that refers to a wide range of conditions which affect our thoughts, feelings and behaviour and ability to cope with the everyday demands of life. These can range from depression and anxiety to conditions such as schizophrenia and personality disorders.

Although at times it may feel like there is no way forward, recovery is possible. Despite having a mental health condition, people can and do learn to live with their symptoms (or get over them), rediscover ‘wellness’ and recover their lives.

What is recovery?

The concept of recovery arose in the 1970s and 80s from the accounts and experiences of those with severe mental ill-health which emphasized self-help, empowerment and advocacy, and challenged the traditional notions of professional power and expertise.

They also challenged the pessimistic view that people with severe mental ill-health did not recover. Further support for the notion of recovery came from studies that showed that many people living with mental health conditions were able to lead valued and productive lives - and some became symptom free.

Whilst there is no single agreed definition of recovery, the following is cited widely and captures the essence of what recovery is about:

"A deeply personal, unique process of changing one's attitudes, values, feelings, goals, skills and roles. It is a way of living a satisfying, hopeful and contributing life even with limitations caused by the illness. Recovery involves the development of new meaning and purpose in one's life as one grows beyond the catastrophic effects of mental illness." (Anthony, 1993).

Recovery tips

  • Do some research, get to know your condition
  • Learn your triggers or what can affect you negatively
  • Get support from friends and family. Let them know what you are feeling and what you are going through
  • Don't be afraid to talk to a professional
  • Get some fresh air every day
  • Take care of your physical health by exercising and getting regular health checks with your doctor
  • Achieve something every day - however small it may be - and celebrate your success
  • Avoid alcohol
  • Get help if you need it - asking for help is not a sign of weakness
  • Avoid being isolated - consider volunteering or visiting an elderly person.

Points to remember

  • Although life may be different from the way it was before developing a mental health condition, this does not mean that life has to be any less meaningful
  • Mental illness may be a part of you, but it does not define you
  • Recovery is an on-going process; a journey, rather than a place to reach
  • Recovery is very personal, it will mean something different to every individual. For one person, recovery might mean they are able to gain a sense of control over their illness and maintain ‘wellness’. To someone else it could mean they are able to live independently, have a relationship or engage in enjoyable activities. Regardless of its meaning, every person can achieve some level of recovery in their lives
  • Recovery is difficult and can involve lots of hiccups; it’s not a straight upward line. However, it is possible to be gripped by the worst your mental health condition(s) can throw at you while still moving along the recovery journey. Learning from each of these experiences and applying the lessons to further encounters (for example through use of a Wellness Recovery Action Plan can help).

What contributes to recovery?

  • Re-establishing your identity
  • Self management and self care
  • A committment to step-by-step progress
  • Taking responsibility for your life and wellbeing
  • Recognising that recovery is a process that takes time and effort
  • Gaining a sense of control over your illness
  • Hope that recovery is possible
  • Self awareness and belief in yourself
  • Recognising that although things may be different to before, they don't have to be less meaningful
  • Accepting support from professionals, friends and family
  • A willingness to discover or rediscover meaning in your life (engaging in meaningful activity)
  • Consideration of all aspects of life.

Inspirational quotes

Determination, patience and courage are the only things needed to improve any situation.
Peter Sinclair

We must become the change we want to see.
Mahatma Gandhi

Taking back our power means deciding who we are, and who we wish to be. This is only possible when we no longer make our past or other people’s opinions ‘about us.’
Melanie Tonia Evans

Dreams are renewable. No matter what our age or condition, there are still untapped possibilities within us and new beauty waiting to be born.
Helen Keller

One of the best medicines on earth is getting busy and keeping busy.

There is no progress without daily action.

He who has hope has everything.
Arabian Proverb

It is not what we get. But who we become, what we contribute…that gives meaning to our lives.
Tony Robbins

Recovering from mental illness is difficult. It is probably the hardest thing you will ever do. But in doing so, in making slow progress, you will learn a lot about yourself and about life.

My recovery journey has been difficult and emotional. I am learning to live a full and meaningful life while trying to manage my condition

To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe.
Anatole France

Recovery at Surrey and Borders

The principles of recovery are important to Surrey and Borders. Although not developed specifically with recovery in mind, many of the principles of recovery are captured by the Trust’s Vision and Values.

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Recovery is not new to the Trust and there is some excellent recovery-oriented practice within our services. However, it is important to ensure that this is consistent and that good recovery initiatives continue. Developing services in line with recovery principles is a priority for the Trust and forms part of the Trust’s Annual Plan and Clinical Strategy.

Central to this work is the use of the Implementing Recovery through Organisational Change (ImROC) measure, developed by Geoff Shepherd (2010, Centre for Mental Health). The ImROC measure was produced to support organisations including mental health trusts to develop their services in line with recovery principles. It provides a useful self-assessment framework of '10 Key Challenges’ that need to be addressed for services to become more recovery-oriented.

Change is a lengthy process but there have been a number of positive changes within the Trust, which are centred on recovery:

Recovery College
Our Recovery Colleges in Surrey and north east Hampshire support people in their recovery through a range of educational courses on psychological, mental and physical health conditions. More info

Community Mental Health Recovery Services (CMHRSs)
We set up 11 CMHRSs to replace some existing adult services. The name change represented a commitment to putting recovery at the heart of our work. More info

Action Plans
Wellness and Recovery Action Plan groups and workshops have been rolled our across CMHRSs. They provide a space for shared experiences and an opportunity to learn skills from one another. You can develop a WRAP with your care co-ordinator, talk to them about the options available.

Recovery Innovations Group
This group, which is made up of clinicians, managers, people who use services and carers, meets monthly to continually develop the Trust's recovery work.

How do professionals help with recovery?

Recovery is not something that mental health professionals or services can do 'to' you. It's something that comes from you and is led by you: you take ownership of and it work towards it, step-by-step.

Recovery can seem daunting, and it can be difficult to know where to start. So, it's important that you receive support along the way.

Central to recovery is the notion that people experiencing mental health conditions and professionals are equal partners and experts in your care, working together in collaboration.

Our mental health professionals are here to support you in your recovery journey by providing the information, skills and care to manage your condition and to access what you might need to live a meaningful life.

Wellness & Recovery Action Plan (WRAP)

One way you can work with mental health professionals on your recovery journey is to develop a WRAP, a personal plan designed to help you take control of your own life. It is an evidence based system, developed by people with experience of mental ill-health and is used around the world.

Creating a WRAP involves developing a personal 'wellness toolbox', which is used to develop maintenance plans for staying well and action plans to help you manage if you become unwell. It helps you to:

  • Maintain wellness
  • Recognise your triggers and spot early warning signs
  • Plan for a crisis
  • Keep track of your medication and treatment
  • List your supporters
  • Set goals.

Core principles

WRAP is underpinned by the following core principles:

  • Hope: recovery is possible for all
  • Personal responsibility: we all need to take some personal responsibility for our own lives and wellbeing
  • Education: the importance of knowing oneself and being self-aware
  • Self-advocacy: the importance of believing in and advocating for oneself
  • Support: support of others is vital

Useful resources

Whether you have mental-ill health or care for someone who does, the following useful links on personal recovery and national papers may help you.

Personal recovery

IAPT resources www.mindmattersnhs.co.uk 
Surrey and Borders Partership provide services to people who have mild to moderate mental ill-health through our Mind Matters IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies) service.

Choice and Medication www.choiceandmedication.org/sabp 
This website is for people  who use our services, carers and health professionals and has information on common mental illnesses, medication and side effects.

Rethink www.rethink.org
Rethink are a charity who provide support to everyone affected by mental illness; giving clear, relevant information on everything from treatment and care to benefits and employment rights.

Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) www.citizensadvice.org.uk
CAB offer practical, up-to-date information and advice on a wide range of topics including debt, housing, employment and welfare benefits.

The Welcome Project www.welcomeprojectsurrey.co.uk
The Welcome Project focuses on people who have mental ill-health but is open to everyone aged between 18 and 65, lives in Guildford, Waverley or Surrey Heath and would like to better their wellbeing. They work closely with Oakleaf and Guildford Action - both long standing charities based in Surrey. The Welcome Project provide counselling, social inclusion activities and support with employment. They also training in upholstery, horticulture and IT.

The Richmond Fellowship www.richmondfellowship.org.uk
A specialist provider of mental health services for housing, care and employment. Their mission is to encourage, support and challenge people with mental ill-health on their recovery journey.

Get Self Help www.getselfhelp.co.uk
Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) has been proven to help with mental ill-health. Get Self Help offers CBT self-help information and resources, including therapy worksheets.

Mental Health Recovery www.mentalhealthrecovery.com
A website with lots of information on Wellness Recovery Action Planning (WRAP) and links to recovery resources. 

National papers

No Health Without Mental Health Written in 2011, this strategy paper set out the Government's ambition to mainstream mental health and bring parity of esteem between services for people with mental and physical health problems.

Work, Recovery and Inclusion This report sets out the Government's high level vision and series of commitments to support people in contact with secondary mental health services into work.

Recovery is...

We asked people who use our Community Mental Health Recovery Services what recovery is to them. Thanks to everyone for their contributions.

'...making the most of the things I can do'

'...a journey on a travellator. Sometimes I walk straight, sometimes I step into a lift and go to the basement (depression). Sometimes I step on and it goes to the top floor (mania). Hopefully it always returns to walk'

'...feeling more confident'

'...the wrong word, coping or living with would be better'

'...doing better today than yesterday'

'...smiling at a stranger'


'...doing your best'

'...difficult. It is probably the hardest thing you will ever do. But in doing so, in making slow progress, you will learn a lot about yourself and a lot about life'

‘...more about being stable than a recovery'

‘...moving away from crisis management and being able to successfully manage my wellbeing’

‘...a bit daunting’

‘...getting a buzz by helping other mental health carers and service users’

‘...helping you get on to the next step of life’

‘...feeling better about yourself – raising self-esteem’

‘...feeling like you are making progress towards your own goals’

‘...getting support from others in the same boat’

‘...seeing someone have fun’

‘...coping with everyday things, being able to move on to coping and enjoying life’

‘...using your mind to help you get better.’

A carer's perspective

'Coping with mental illness is a bit like a roller coaster, ranging from really hopeful one minute and despair at another. Perhaps recovery for me is about trying to balance between the two extremes.’

Get creative

Engaging in creative activities can help you express your recovery story. Some people who use our services are referred for arts therapies, where they can communicate and understand difficult feelings in a safe, supportive environment. Many join creative groups in their local community.

Below are examples of work that people who use our services have created something using 'recovery' as their inspiration. To submit your piece of creative work for this page, please email communications@sabp.nhs.uk.

Recovery stories

Personal stories of recovery from mental illness are extremely powerful. Creating your personal recovery story helps your recovery journey and can also help those who read, hear or see it.

Your story has the power to achieve this as it provides evidence that recovery is possible and gives hope to others. We hope our examples will inspire you to create your own recovery story.