The Mental Rehabilitation Model had been the dominant paradigm in the mental health service of Hong Kong over the past decades (Yip 1997). In the rehabilitation paradigm, the restoration of adaptive functions and the alleviation of psychiatric symptoms of a mentally ill person are emphasized.
It has often been said that the model was professionally driven where mental health professionals possessed all the knowledge and expertise to help the rehabilitation of people suffering from mental disorders, while the wisdom gained by the patients from their own subjective experiences over their illnesses and recovery was often neglected.
In the past few decades, mental health services in Western countries (notably the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia) experienced a gradual revolution known as the ‘recovery movement’. This was born out of the consumer movement and other major contemporary social movements such as women’s and gay rights.
Rather than focusing on mental illness and symptom management, the recovery paradigm focuses on enabling a person with experiences of mental distress to lead a meaningful and hopeful life, as the National Consensus Statement on Mental Health Recovery issued by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration stated: ‘Mental health recovery is a journey of healing and transformation enabling a person with a mental health problem to live a meaningful life in a community of his/her choice while striving to achieve his or her full potential’.
Pat Deegan (1988, 12), an advocate in the recovery movement, also pointed out: ‘Disabled persons are not passive recipients of rehabilitation services. Rather, they experience themselves as recovering a new sense of self and of purpose within and beyond the limits of disability.
The recovery paradigm emphasizes the individual’s personal experiences of the illness; hence, in the practice of recovery research, narratives of one’s personal experiences of, and views on, the course of recovery from mental illness are often collected and focused upon.
Since the 1980s professional journals such as Schizophrenia Bulletin and Psychiatric Services have published numerous first-person accounts of mental distress and recovery. From reading these personal stories, mental health professionals can learn about the issues and difficulties confronted by people with lived experiences of recovering from mental illness, as well as gain an understanding of the important factors in helping or hindering the recovery process.
The present study involved formal qualitative research on the experiences of a group of Chinese people living in Hong Kong who are recovering from mental illness. The participants were recruited from a mental wellness center run by The Society of Rehabilitation and Crime Prevention, Hong Kong (SRACP). It is hoped that the results will deepen understanding of the recovery factors among people recovering from mental illness in Hong Kong and better inform and enhance community mental health services’ recovery-orientated practices
The current study was inspired by a research project undertaken by Rethink (2009), a national mental health membership charity based in the UK. Its study involved in-depth interviews with 48 people (95% white British) with a history of mental distress who were recruited from different regions in England. From the study, ten recovery themes of importance in shaping the individual recovery journey were identified:
Basic and material needs
Stigma and isolation
Receiving support from mental health staff;
Treatments (appropriate medication, hospital treatment);
Identity and self-awareness;
Self-management and resilience;
Having a purpose and belonging, and
Spirituality and cultural wisdom
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